Strategic Thinking Articles

Taking The 360-Degree View Identifying Change

This is the second in a series of articles on "How To Be a Futurist"

Identifying sources of change is a key component to any future-focused planning effort. Learning what is happening in the organization's "environment" is crucial to succeeding with this task. This environment includes the micro - those areas that immediately affect an organization (for example, an internal focal issue such as a specific piece of legislation) as well as immediate, yet more outside factors, such as competitors, customers and stakeholders. Because organizations are not islands unto themselves, the larger, more macro environment must be monitored as well. This is where the 360-degree view comes in.

Summed up with the acronym STEEP, the 360-degree view involves looking outside the organization on a more global scale at five macro areas of potential change - Socio-demographic, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political (STEEP). Futurists have created this STEEP taxonomy to help organize areas of potential change and find where there may be overlap (how a new technology may effect policy or the environment, for example). Before looking for change in the STEEP areas, it is important to understand the different categories of change. Types of change include:

  • Cycles - changes that occur over an observable time period and are rather predictable (i.e.; seasons, ice ages, El Nino, etc.).
  • Trends - changes that move in a direction overtime. Trends are not new; there is a lot of data and information about them and they have been observed for a period of time (i.e.; global warming, population changes, etc.).
  • Wildcard events - sudden, discontinuous change (i.e.; the fall of the Berlin Wall, the September 11 tragedies, etc.).
  • Emerging issues - this is the type of change futurists are most interested in because they are seeds of trends; the changes that will initiate a trend over time. Sniff out an emerging issue and you have the potential for real leverage in how that issue eventually affects your organization (i.e.; environmentalism, personal computer use, virtual reality, etc.)

How can your organization find those areas of potential change lurking just under the surface? It's easier than you may think, but involves commitment from staff and leaders to keep abreast of information not only in the micro environment, but the more macro environment involving STEEP. This includes "scanning" articles, publications, journals, web sites, etc. for tidbits of information in the five categories that are particularly interesting and could have real potential for creating change. Some must-have sources for scanning include "The Economist" magazine; "The Futurist Update" (produced online by the World Future Society at and "Future Survey," (also produced by the World Future Society). Other sources for scanning include search engines like Newstracker (; Northern Light (, and Google (

Next: So you've got all this great information, now what?

This article was published in the October 26, 2001 issue of Association Trends magazine

Back to Articles