The Crisis of Discovery

Sometimes a phrase pops. You drop everything, because those words suddenly make the world make more sense; the background interference that’s been nagging at your subconscious resolves to something more intelligible. Today, it’s this from Robin Sloan‘s newsletter:

“Where the internet is concerned, we are in a crisis of discovery. Anyone with interesting new work to share — their own or someone else’s — rummages in the tool shed, looking for a seed spreader or a slingshot, and emerges with an egg beater and a single unmatched glove. Is this all we’ve got??”

A great phrase. The crisis of discovery.

Why did it speak to me?

At first, it grazed me momentarily as I scanned through Mastodon. I think Dan mentioned it, but I’ll be damned if I can find it again in what passes for Mastodon search. That phrase wormed its way in, though, and I went searching for the source.

And yes, there is a bitter, rich irony about discovering Robin’s phrase via a Twitter liferaft, finding it nestled in a newsletter.

I was lucky to have found it at all.

And at first, I took it at face value, paired with the sentiment I’d been trying to articulate eight years ago when wrestling with the idea of The certainty of delivery:

When we find things, or make things, and send those things somewhere, there’s an expectation of delivery. An expectation that someone at the other end would want to receive it, so we should be able to make sure they get it. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen a return to email newsletters and podcasts, to posting letters and making things. There’s a certainty of delivery about them. People will get what we send. We’re not really sure whether the social network stuff we post is going to go any more, whether it’ll reach any of the people we want it to reach.”

Yet shortly afterwards I found myself reaching for the phrase in a meeting.

The project in question is on an ongoing one, regarding scanning for signals around the world. Part of the training was asking people where they looked for information regarding important new signals of change.

I’m now wondering what those answers will look like in twelve months.

Or five years?

I think there’s potentially a much bigger crisis of discovery on the horizon, as social networks collapse under the weight of imploding egos, and journalism continues to be cut to the quick thanks to new economic realities.

If you’re an organisation trying to build full sensory capabilities, to become more anticipatory, to sense what’s coming around the corner, it’s not going to be about where you look in future. Because where might not be a place any more. It’s how. How you prepare your people, your teams, your systems. You need to start building it in now, to make sure you’re not cut off from the world, blind to emerging realities.

Because in the crisis of discovery, you might not even know what you don’t know until it’s too late.