Things are getting more and more complex here on planet earth. Through this complexity we have to get much better at learning to spot the hints and tips that lead us towards the things we want to find. The search for positive signals has become one of the best tools in our belt for detecting where to make positive change. Julian Assange, the editor and founder of Wikileaks, presented at the Centre for Investigative Journalism recently to discuss the different facets of revealing secrets. One of my strongest take aways from this was what he had to say about spotting positive signals.
“Where you see aggressive attempts to censor things, it’s a positive signal because the power structures that control those attempts are revealing their fear of journalists or other people revealing that information.”
“Early on, we were predominately focused on where we thought the most in-transparent government was and were press was most concealed; under this philosophy once again, that organisations that are attempting to conceal things are actually giving off a very positive signal. They’re scared of information flow. They’re scared of the press. And to us, of course, that was China and some African countries…as well as the US.“
Wikileaks doesn’t focuses on looking for leaked stories, but instead searches for organisations and governments that are giving off positive economic signals; organisations and governments that are, in an economic sense, producing ‘work’ to keep certain information hidden.
Wikipedia is another beautiful positive signal and an excellent example of work being done. Clay Shirky theorizes that about 100 Million hours of human thought was required to create Wikipedia. If you want to get more specific, track back through the Wikipedia articles and look at their history to see how much work goes in to keeping them accurate and you’ll learn quickly what people care about. Peak hour traffic during school holidays is another one – traffic often subsides during school holidays, presumably because parents take time off from work to spend time with their children.
There are examples everywhere of different positive signals that we can watch. The question is, how do you decide which ones you are going to watch and for what reason? Which metrics and signals will be useful for you or your organisation in pursing your purpose and goals? For Assange and Wikileaks, this is to achieve ‘just reform’ by revealing what history needs to know. What will it be for you?