“One can have only as much preparation as he has foresight.” ― Jim Butcher, Changes
Those who figure out the future better can plan better and respond better to our fast changing world.
What skills do you use to navigate the future?
Imagine if you had real skills and a real methodology for figuring out the future.
If you are a strategist or business leader or simply trying to survive and thrive in the future, you need a methodology.
Strategic Foresight is a methodology you can use to develop and hone your skills and abilities to think, explore and exploit the future.
After all, Foresight is the front end of strategy–Foresight informs your strategy so you can embrace change and create new opportunities.
How Do You Do Strategy without Foresight?
How in the world are you doing any sort of meaningful strategic planning or strategic thinking or strategic management without Foresight?
You don’t. You’re just playing pretend or going through the motions.
If I were to ask you, what does your business need to look like a year from now, how would you answer that?
To answer that well, you need to have perspective on how the future will change what’s driving the market.
You don’t need to be right, but you at least need to have hypotheses and scenarios about what the future holds so you can plan accordingly.
You need to have ideas about how disruptive trends and insights will create shifts in value.
Consumers values change in response to key events, and you need to factor that in.
Foresight is a methodology to help you understand the future better so you can respond better.
The Front End of Strategy is Foresight!
Most organizations jump into strategy & planning. They miss the boat on the preparation that make strategy planning effective.
After all, how do you think through your strategy if you don’t have a good map of the disruptive trends and insights reshaping the market?
From Foresight University:
“Most organizations don’t have any incentives, or culture to elicit any kind of thinking, discussion, or process prior to doing strategy and planning.
So by calling foresight the ‘front end of strategy’, you can help your audience realize that if they don’t do anything consciously before they jump into their strategy work, and most teams don’t, they are presently missing an entire set of practices, developed over the last sixty years by foresight practitioners, that promise to greatly improve their strategic outcomes.”
What is Strategic Foresight?
Strategic Foresight is a powerful methodology you can use for planning for the future and I find it’s a key tool for business innovation.
Foresight is part of the Future Studies field. Strategic Foresight is a methodology you can get certified in, just like Design Thinking.
Here is how Peter Bishop, past director of the U. Houston Strategic Foresight MS, defines foresight:
“Foresight is anything we do prior to strategic planning.”
Here is how Foresight University, defines Strategic Foresight:
“Strategic foresight is a large set of thinking, discussion, and practices we can do as inputs to strategy, that will reliably make strategy (the last foresight skill) both more future-aware and future-resilient.”
Here is how Maree Conway defines Strategic Foresight:
“Foresight capacities are being applied to strategy development to expand and deepen how we understand the range of possible organizational futures.”
Here is how Richard Slaughter defines Strategic Foresight:
“The ability to create and maintain a high-quality, coherent and functional forward view and to use the insights arising in organizationally useful ways; for example: to detect adverse conditions, guide policy, shape strategy; to explore new markets, products and services.
It represents a fusion of futures methods with those of strategic management.”
The 6 Thinking Types (the 6 Ps) in Strategic Foresight
I hope you like alliteration, because there are a whole lot of Ps going on.
Ultimately the 6 Strategic Foresight Thinking Types help you ponder the plethora of possibilities in practical, plausible, and sometimes preposterous ways.
According to Foresight University, Strategic Foresight can be broken down into 6 types of thinking—the 6 Ps of Strategic Foresight.
Here are the 6 Ps of Strategic Foresight, according to Foresight University:
These categories are named well. They labels represent exactly what they are for.
Past is thinking about the past, Present is thinking about the present, Probable is thinking about probable futures, etc.
Sometimes a simple set of categories is all you need to remind you to look at something from a different angle or perspective.
Use your 6 Ps to pivot your perspectives.
4 Skills of Strategic Foresight
You can use the 6 Ps of Strategic Foresight to practice the 4 Skills of Strategic Foresight.
According to Foresight University, the 4 Skills of Strategic Foresight are:
- Learning (the Past and Present – “Preparation”) You can group the Past and Present together as Preparation for the future. In Learning, you collect relevant history, trends, cycles, causal factors, and models and it’s really an exercise in “divergent” thinking.
- Anticipation (the Probable) This is where you synthesize what you’ve learned. You extrapolate so you can forecast the relevant trends. And you consider the way the trends may interact to create more change, so you can make some predictions based on probability. This is an exercise in “convergent” thinking.
- Innovation (the Possible) This is where you explore the art of the possible. You imagine possibilities based on your historical analysis and intelligence gathering (learning), and forecasting, risk assessment, and prediction (anticipation). It’s another exercise in “divergent” thinking.
- Strategy (the Preventable and Preferable) You can group “defensive thinking”, Preventable, with “advantage thinking”, Preferable, as the two fundamental types of strategy.
You will basically be using the 6 categories of different pivots and perspectives to explore and exploit the future.
The Probable, the Possible and the Preferable (the 3 Ps Foresight Thinking Types)
Imagine if you could juxtapose, or place close together for contrasting effect, what will happen, what could happen, and what should happen?
Imagine the deep insights you would gain from this multi-perspective view. And imagine how you can pivot your plans based on these multiple perspectives.
That’s the big idea of the 3 Ps Model of Foresight Thinking.
Here are the 3 primary types of Foresight Thinking according to Foresight University:
- Probable Futures (constraint- and uniformity-generating, predictable, secure, expected, familiar)
- Possible Futures (freedom- and variety-generating, unpredictable, creative, alternative, novel)
- Preferable Futures (individually or group-preferred values, goals and agendas for the future)
Foresight University writes:
“In the 3Ps model, the Primary Value Proposition of Foresight Thinking, for every individual, team, and society on Earth, is that we can use it to see better what will happen, what could happen, and what should happen, all at the same time.”
Example Strategic Foresight Framework
Just like innovation, Strategic Foresight is a team sport and it help to give everybody a common mental model or framework to work from.
I am a fan of frameworks that are easy to visualize and whiteboard so that others can quickly get the main idea.
There are a lot of variations of the Strategic Foresight methodology, and some include integration of Lean and Design Thinking.
I’ve found the following framework to be useful in terms of learning the main mental model and understanding the relationships and flow of key activities.
In my experience, a lot of the art and science is in the framing, the scanning, and the forecasting.
It requires trying different pivots on trends and framing things in an insightful and actionable way.
At the same time, you ultimately want to bring together a lot of moving parts in a synthesized way.
How Strategic Foresight Helps Shape and Design Your Future
When most people are asked to figure out the future, they usually just project the past onto it.
They simply look back and stick more of the past onto the future.
It’s very human to actually disconnect from the future, unless you regularly practice building empathy for the future.
Your Future Self is a stranger to you, just like the Future itself is like a stranger.
It’s disconnected. It’s distant. It’s out there.
And the further out you project into the future, the more disconnected you feel from it.
In my experience, this is where the skill of Foresight really helps.
Rather than simply project the past onto the future, you really learn about the key drivers and events shaping the future.
You can use Strategic Foresight to form a vivid model of Probable, Possible, and Preferable futures.
Leave It Behind, Carry it Forward, or Exploit Net New
With your vivid models and perspectives of the future in hand, you are better able to make smart choice.
- You can then leave things behind that should be left behind.
- You can carry things forward that should be brought forward.
- You can pivot to the future and exploit the new. What can you uniquely do now if you hit refresh and take a new look with a fresh perspective from this new vantage point? What can you uniquely exploit based on how the system and ecosystem have changed?
This is your chance to leverage the strengths of the brand-new opportunities unfolding right before your eyes.
Use Foresight to Keep Bad Things from Happening
You know the saying how “a stitch in time can save nine.” Foresight helps you figure out which stitch and where to put it to brace and embrace the future.
Here is a quote from William S. Burroughs that really says it all:
“The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time… and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the possibility.”
Foresight is a methodology you can use to help you see things ahead of time
Look Back Twice as Far as You Wish to Look Forward
There is a good rule of forecasting which is to look back twice as far as you want to look ahead.
This will help you see the forest for the trees and better understand cycles of change and trends versus just fads.
It’s how you will better understand the nature of the system you are analyzing.
Future University writes:
“A well-known rule of forecasting is that we must first look back, at least twice as far as we wish to look forward, to see the relevant trends, cycles, causal factors, and models applicable to any complex system.
We must also adopt a curious, critical, and evidence-based attitude.
Careful research of the relevant past and present is a necessary first step in producing new foresight, and we also need to get critical input from everyone with deep experience in the problem area.
Practitioners who skimp on this learning step can easily rely on old models and outdated information, and the quality of their work suffers greatly as a result.”
Where to Go for More
There are a lot of great resources on Strategic Foresight, but my personal favorite happens to be the guide on Foresight University:
Call to Action
- Use the 6 Ps to pivot your perspective and to gain insights into the future.
- Use Strategic Foresight to figure out Probable, Possible, and Preferable futures.
- Use Strategic Foresight methodology to Explore and exploit the future from new vantage points.
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