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Explore the future, with free help!

multetrainSorry, no, not offering free samples! (Though you can always lure me in to sharing thoughts on the future with you). But I can share tips on getting deeper thinking and scouting on the future going, costing you only some time, and less of that than you would spend otherwise.

Sometimes there’s a little bit of lead time when you will be exploring the issues, forces, and trends at play for a particular subject. If you have at least a few weeks before you’ll start really probing a new topic, you can “chum the waters” a bit, and get data flowing and insights percolating. It makes a difference, first, to tell your colleagues and friends that you’re looking into the topic. Feed them some insights you have, maybe even provocative ones they cannot help responding to. Make it interesting. Get the sharing going and your colleagues will become scouts—they often can’t help but think about the topic on your behalf, and share a thought or two along the way, once you’ve started them. Also, you’ll owe them some news on what you found out—share back! And you will owe them your best thoughts when it’s their turn to pose questions.
Second, you can sign up for newsletters, newfeeds, listservs and so on, in advance of plunging into the topic more earnestly. For example, if you have a topic that isn’t likely to have a lot of content flowing on the Internet, but that will have some, you can create a Google Alert, which will send you an email with links whenever the topic, constructed as a search, comes up on the Web. This will get you a range of intelligence on the topic, and it will “push” that information to you, regularly, until you ask Google to stop.
Third, there are a number of blogs and e-news sources that report on the big trends at play. Their authors are doing work you might otherwise have to do. We can wonder why they offer it up for free, but better yet is to quietly enjoy the fruits of their labor, and be happy they are doing it. As you do research and reading, look for which sources keep coming up as useful to you, and make them a regular stop, or set up to get their new postings.
These are just a couple of ways to get a bit of help, at no cost (but your time). I use them all the time as I explore a changing set of futures issues. They are good foresight habits to cultivate and adapt to your needs.
Some related insights:
Image: dnak, via Flickr, cc license
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