“Foresight is anything we do prior to strategic planning.” — Peter Bishop, professional futurist (futurologist)
Strategic foresight is a systematic approach to anticipating and planning for the future, combining analysis of probable, possible, and preferable futures.
Strategic foresight is a disciplined approach to exploring and anticipating the future, enabling individuals and organizations to better navigate the uncertainties and complexities of an ever-changing world.
It involves a range of methods and tools to identify and analyze trends, signals, and weak signals, and to generate multiple plausible scenarios of the future.
By understanding the potential challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, individuals and organizations can develop more informed strategies and make better decisions in the present.
Strategic foresight is not about predicting the future, but rather about developing a deeper understanding of the driving forces and emerging trends shaping the world around us, and using that understanding to inform actions and decisions.
With the accelerating pace of change and increasing complexity of our global society, strategic foresight has become an essential tool for individuals and organizations looking to thrive in the years to come.
Foresight is the Front End of Strategy
Strategic foresight is the front end of strategy and is a set of practices that can greatly improve strategic outcomes.
Without conscious effort to engage in foresight thinking, teams are missing out on a valuable set of practices that have been developed over the last sixty years by foresight practitioners.
By engaging in foresight thinking, teams can make their strategy more future-aware and future-resilient.
What is Strategic Foresight?
Strategic foresight is a process of identifying and analyzing potential future developments and trends to inform strategic decision-making in the present.
It involves systematically exploring multiple possible futures and their implications for an organization, industry, or society.
Strategic foresight aims to help organizations anticipate and prepare for potential challenges and opportunities, rather than simply reacting to them when they occur.
It involves a range of methods and tools, such as scenario planning, trend analysis, and horizon scanning, and can be applied to a wide variety of contexts, including business, government, and social issues.
Why Use Strategic Foresight?
Strategic foresight helps organizations and individuals to anticipate and prepare for future challenges and opportunities.
By engaging in strategic foresight, organizations can identify potential disruptors and develop plans to navigate uncertain futures.
It can also help organizations to identify emerging trends and technologies, understand changing customer needs and preferences, and make better decisions in the face of ambiguity and complexity.
Ultimately, strategic foresight can help organizations and individuals to create more resilient, sustainable, and adaptable strategies for the future.
What is the Strategic Foresight Process?
The process of strategic foresight involves a series of steps and activities that are designed to anticipate and prepare for potential future changes and disruptions. The exact process may vary depending on the organization or individual using it, but typically includes the following steps:
- Defining the scope and purpose: Identify the issue or area of focus that the foresight process will address and clarify the objectives and goals.
- Environmental scanning: Gather information on current trends, drivers of change, and emerging issues that could affect the future.
- Trend analysis: Analyze the data collected in the environmental scanning phase to identify patterns and trends that may impact the future.
- Scenario planning: Develop plausible and diverse scenarios of the future based on the identified trends and drivers of change.
- Implications analysis: Assess the potential impact of the scenarios on the organization or individuals and identify potential opportunities and risks.
- Strategic options development: Identify possible strategies, policies, and actions that can be taken to address the potential opportunities and risks identified in the previous phase.
- Action planning and implementation: Develop action plans for the selected strategic options and implement them.
- Monitoring and evaluation: Monitor the implementation of the strategic options and evaluate their effectiveness over time, adjusting them as necessary based on feedback and changes in the environment.
The process of strategic foresight is designed to help individuals and organizations think more proactively and strategically about the future, anticipate potential changes and disruptions, and prepare for them accordingly.
3Ps Model of Strategic Foresight
The Three Ps of Foresight Thinking include probable futures, possible futures, and preferable futures:
- Probable Futures: characterized by constraints, uniformity, predictability, security, and familiarity.
- Possible Futures: characterized by freedom, variety, unpredictability, creativity, and novelty.
- Preferable Futures: reflect the values, goals, and agendas that individuals or groups desire for the future.
Preferable futures are a combination of probable and possible futures and are generated only by intelligent organisms.
Probable and possible futures can be found in the physical and informational processes of the universe, including the processes that created life and constrain its future.
3Ps Model of Strategic Foresight Value Prop
The 3Ps model emphasizes the key benefit of foresight thinking, which is applicable to individuals, teams, and societies worldwide.
It enables us to gain improved insight into what will happen, what could happen, and what should happen simultaneously.
The probable future is the first type of foresight in the Three Ps of Foresight Thinking. It is the expected or baseline future that is likely to happen, whether we want it or not.
It is dominated by convergent physical processes and thinking and strives to become a science.
Starting with this type of foresight helps us understand the relevant predictable laws, limits, constraints, trends, and boundaries of the future.
Examples of predictable, uniformity-generating processes include classical physics, laws of thermodynamics, and cultural universals like the preference for democracy over autocracy.
The possible is the second type of foresight and is also called alternative futures. It involves thinking about what could happen tomorrow, or “chance,” and is characterized by unpredictable and divergent processes.
Examples include quantum physics, biological evolution, and human free will and imagination.
Possible futures are the domain of creativity, risk-taking, experimentation, and competition, and are important for artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
In organizations, it involves considering any activity that could be taken by you or your competitors and the environmental changes that could impact your strategy, plans, or actions.
The third type of foresight is preferable futures, which are generated by individuals and organizations based on their values, goals, and agendas for the future.
They are adaptive and best able to survive and thrive in a competitive environment.
However, preferable futures can only emerge as a combination of the first two types of foresight: probable and possible futures.
Seeing the probable and the possible as the two most basic ways of analyzing change began with the Greek philosopher Democritus. Preferable futures are normative and political as they are based on values and desired outcomes.
Artistotle’s Three Universal Values: the True, the Beautiful, and the Good
When thinking about preferrable futures, it helps to consider the True, the Beautiful, and the Good.
Both Eastern and Western philosophers in antiquity recognized the importance of the values of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good.
The Bhagavad Gita in the East and Plato and Aristotle in the West all explored these values as universal properties of being.
Aristotle was the first to champion the universality of these values categories, dividing human intellect into theoretical, productive, and practical, with each concerned respectively with knowledge and truth, the creation of beautiful objects, and ethics and the nature of the good.
According to Aristotle’s model, our intellect can be divided into three parts – the theoretical mind which focuses on knowledge and truth, the productive mind which is concerned with creating beautiful objects, and the practical mind which deals with ethics and the concept of the good.
How the 3Ps of Strategic Foresight Align with Aristotle’s 3 Universal Values
The Three Ps of strategic foresight align with Aristotle’s three universal values – the True, the Beautiful, and the Good.
Probability foresight is associated with truth, possibility foresight with beauty or creativity, and preference foresight with goodness or ethics.
These values and foresight processes are closely related and can be seen as a restatement of Aristotle’s values from a values perspective.
4Ps of the Modern Foresight Pyramid
The Modern Foresight Pyramid involves dividing the Preferable into the Preferred and Preventable types of sentiment.
The Four Ps of future thinking, first introduced by Art Shostak in 2001, are:
- Probable futures
- Possible futures
- Preferred futures
- Preventable futures
Leaders need to use both Preferred and Preventable futures thinking to become adaptive. They must balance both forms of thinking, both as individuals and as leaders of teams.
Defensive pessimism and strategic optimism are the two most basic types of sentiment that living systems use to navigate the future.
Strategic optimism is focused on achieving preferred or progressive futures, which involves identifying opportunities, creating shared goals, strategies, plans, and visions. It is a more experimental form of futures thinking.
Defensive pessimism is focused on preventing bad outcomes, and it deals with the most plausible and dangerous risks and threats to our preferred vision.
It is a more conservative form of futures thinking and involves generating “if-then” conditions for a defensive strategy.
6 Key Thinking Types of Strategic Foresight (6Ps)
These are the six key thinking types in strategic foresight:
- Past: Understanding how past events and trends have shaped the present and may continue to influence the future.
- Present: Analyzing current trends, issues, and drivers of change to identify potential future scenarios.
- Probable: Exploring the most likely and predictable future scenarios based on current trends and data.
- Possible: Considering a range of alternative and unexpected future scenarios that could arise from disruptive events or emerging trends.
- Preferred: Identifying and working towards desired future scenarios based on values, goals, and aspirations.
- Preventable: Preparing for and mitigating potential risks and negative future scenarios.
4 Foresight Skills
The Six Ps can be condensed into four skills commonly used in strategic management: Learning, Anticipation, Innovation, and Strategy.
- Learning (the Past and Present – “Preparation”)
- Anticipation (the Probable future)
- Innovation (many Possible futures)
- Strategy (Preferred and Preventable futures)
The first skill, learning, involves understanding the past and present to prepare for the future.
The second skill, anticipation, is focused on the probable future, identifying and analyzing predictable trends and changes.
The third skill, innovation, is about exploring the many possible futures, using creativity and imagination to generate new ideas and opportunities.
The fourth and final skill, strategy, involves considering both the preferred and preventable futures, creating plans and actions to achieve desired outcomes while also anticipating and mitigating potential risks and threats.
Together, these four skills can help individuals and organizations develop a comprehensive and adaptable approach to strategic foresight.
4 Cardinal Sins of Foresight Work
In a Foresight University article called the 6Ps of Strategic Foresight, the authors summarize what they call the 4 Cardinal Sins of Foresight Work:
- Not sufficiently Preparing for foresight thinking (learning the relevant Past and Present).
- Not sufficiently discovering the outlines of the relevant Probable Future
- Not sufficiently exploring our next-adjacent Possible Futures
- Not sufficiently envisioning Preferred and Preventable Futures
These points highlight common mistakes or omissions in the strategic foresight process.
The first point emphasizes the importance of learning from the past and present to prepare for foresight thinking.
The second point suggests that many organizations fail to thoroughly explore and understand the most likely or probable future scenarios that could impact their strategy.
The third point suggests that organizations often neglect to explore possible future scenarios that are next-adjacent, meaning they are just beyond the most likely scenarios.
The fourth point emphasizes the importance of envisioning both preferred and preventable futures, which can help organizations create strategies that are more future-aware and future-resilient.
Order of Operations in Strategic Foresight Practice
In a Foresight University article called the 6Ps of Strategic Foresight, the authors, explain how to address the four “sins” of strategic foresight. They advocate a specific sequence of activities that maximizes effectives.
They call this the Order of Operations in Strategic Foresight Practice.
It begins with discovering relevant history and current status, then exploring probable foresight, moving to possible foresight, and concluding with preference foresight and production of strategy and plans.
Following this order and regularly cycling through the steps with effective action and feedback leads to better adaptation. Skipping or skimping on any of the steps weakens foresight.
1. Start with Preparation
To make accurate predictions about the future, it’s essential to have a thorough understanding of the past and present. Examining past trends, causal factors, and models can provide insight into what may influence, constrain, or control the future.
Similarly, a scan of the present can identify emerging issues that may need to be taken into account. Without this foundational learning work, foresight thinking will not be effective. Many foresight programs neglect the importance of historical and present analysis, resulting in graduates who lack sufficient attention to these areas.
2. Move to the Probable
Become better at predicting, creating, and leading towards preferred futures through the use of strategic foresight.
Understanding the relevant past and present is essential to seeing the probable future, which can guide and empower other foresight activities.
Balancing the level of prediction is crucial, and using all available tools to discover, determine, and predict possible futures is necessary.
It is important to make this foresight information open, accessible, and understood by all relevant actors to collectively reach the best futures possible.
3. End with Adaptive Preferences (Preferred Visions and Preventable Risks and Traps)
To lead towards preferred futures, we need to have a vision that inspires others, but it’s not enough for long-term success; we need to choose values, goals, and strategies that are adaptive to future contexts.
Successful leadership requires finding adaptive shared visions in advance and enabling teams to improve on them.
Each person builds their own models of social progress, and we lead with the best models, evidence, and judgment we have.
How To Practice Strategic Foresight Better
In a Foresight University article called the 6Ps of Strategic Foresight, the authors summarize how to practice Strategic Foresight better by pulling everything together:
“We claim that the Three Ps (or when we include sentiment, the Four Ps) are the three most fundamental types of foresight thinking we can do, and Aristotles Three Values the most fundamental sets of values that we can champion.
This view is found, more or less, in some of the leading books on foresight practice available today.
We will also claim that we must practice the Six Ps, and pay very close attention to how we prepare for foresight thinking, by learning appropriate things about the Past and Present. This view is also found, more or less, in some of the leading books on foresight practice.”
Get the Book on Strategic Foresight
You can get the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler on Amazon:
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