What is strategic foresight and why we should

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What is Strategic Foresight and why
we should care about it
What is strategic foresight?
And why we should care about it
Maree Conway
Thinking Futures
June 2013
About Thinking Futures
….building strategic foresight capacity in organisations
to use the future in strategy development today
What is strategic foresight?
Individual foresight and strategic foresight
Strategic foresight environments - building your organisation’s strategic foresight
Why we should care about strategic foresight
Practical implications
Seeing what’s coming to be
able to respond proactively to
change is a search for
nirvana* for many
*freedom from pain and worry
Future proofing = right answers
= linear future = certainty =
comfort = business as usual
Strategic foresight = many
possible answers = many
possible futures = accepting
uncertainty = looking for
divergent thinking to challenge
assumptions = futures ready
There are no future facts.
Change Ecosystem
And this is a common
reaction when people are
asked to deal with that
You might look at trends
that you can see (short
term) without digging
deeper to understand
the implications of the
powerful forces of
change that are shaping
those trends over time
(long term).
What you get then is a
snapshot of your
organisation’s world –
which will change in
some way almost
Understanding the
future is a journey not
a destination.
Making sense of that change
is often overwhelming
though, and it takes time –
the one thing that is in short
supply in organisations today.
Understanding the future
takes time – it’s a thinking
process that can’t be
We succumb to the
busyness syndrome:
being too busy with the
short term to think
systematically about the
long term.
Understanding the future
is work too.
So whether you mean to or not you ignore the future in
our planning and end up here…
…with this look on your faces when the
future hits you unawares.
The goal: futures ready strategy
Strategy that is flexible
enough to allow an
organisation to be agile in its
response to future change.
This is only possible if you
spend time exploring and
anticipating what the future
might bring to your
organisation’s door.
Not the goal: prediction
The aim is not to get
the future right, but
to avoid getting it
Enter strategic foresight…
What is strategic foresight?
Your definitions?
What is strategic foresight?
The ability to take a forward view and use the insights gained in
organisationally useful ways today.
Richard Slaughter, Foresight International
What is strategic foresight?
A way of thinking about the future, beyond the conventional, that helps
your organisation develop futures ready strategy.
 Futures ready strategy is agile strategy, flexible enough to deal with whatever
challenges and opportunities the future brings. It supports resilience and adaptive
capacity development for people in organisations.
At its base then, strategic foresight is about understanding and
responding to changes in the external environment of your organisation
Individual and Strategic Foresight
Adapted from work by Joseph Voros
Alternative Futures
“won’t ever happen!”
Future Knowledge
“might happen”
Current Knowledge
“could happen”
The ‘Projected’ Future
The ‘default’ extrapolated
‘business as usual’ future
Current Trends
“likely to happen”
Everything beyond
the present moment
Value Judgements
“want to happen”
“should happen”
Adapted from work by Joseph Voros
Strategic Foresight Environments
Building your organisation’s strategic foresight capacity
Increasing use of foresight approaches
Individuals in
Action in
Critical Mass
of Foresight
Trained Staff
New models embedded
You wanted to know more about
the link between strategic foresight
and integral approaches.
Consciousness and
Thinking Capacities
Strategic Foresight
Processes to promote
conversations and
capacity building
A core factor is that for strategic
foresight to be successful in your
organisation, change must occur to
the same degree in all four
Building a futures
ready culture – the
future matters to you
Understanding where
your organisation fits
into the external
environment and how
that environment is
Strategic Foresight Environments?
Defined ‘spaces’ in your organisation’s strategy processes consisting of two things:
 curated and crowdsourced information about change in your organisation’s external operating
 sourced from a diverse number of internal and external sources within and beyond your industry, and
 focused on what is likely to shape your organisation’s potential futures.
 connected and collaborative processes for building strategy,
 involving informed staff and stakeholders, and
 focused on building capacity to think strategically across the organisation.
“what is happening out there?”
“what seems to be happening?”
“what’s really happening?”
“what might happen?”
“what might we need to do?”
Copyright © 2000 Joseph Voros
“what will we do?”
“how will we do it?”
Foresight is a thinking capability…
Confirmation bias
Status-Quo bias
Seek people & sites who agree with us;
discount opposing views to counter
Making choices to ensure things stay the same, or change
as little as possible; change will make things worse
In group bias
Negativity bias
Overestimate capacity of our groups at
expense of those we don’t know
We pay more attention to bad news – we think it’s more
important or profound
Gambler’s fallacy
Bandwagon effect (Abilene Effect)
Put too much weight on previous events as
predictors of future events
Going with the flow of the crowd; Groupthink, hive
Post purchase rationalisation
Projection bias
Convincing yourself a crappy decision was a
great idea all along – avoiding discomfort
Assuming everyone thinks just like me – and so they agree
with me
Neglecting probability
Current moment bias
Observational selection bias
We have a hard time imaging ourselves in the future and
alter thinking/behaviour accordingly – comfort now, pain
Assumptions about peril and risk (eg risk of
dying in planes and cars)
Suddenly seeing things we didn’t see before
(eg pregnant women, your new car)
Anchoring bias
Compare and contrast a limited number of items (why we
need to scan big, deep and long)
Pattern Recognition
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Things are sometimes not what they
Foresight is not necessarily about
changing the way you think, but
using your thinking capacity in
different ways, to challenge the
pattern recognition process.
The purpose of this is to identify
new things – trends, emerging
signals of change – that your
habitual brain may have been
If you don’t try and override your
brain, you won’t see anything
Strategic Foresight and Influence
One of the things you wanted to know more about
- getting more conservative, realistic colleagues to embrace strategic foresight
- using strategic foresight to influence the organisation
You can’t make anyone accept or embrace strategic foresight – unfortunately!
Because strategic foresight is a thinking capacity, the people you want to influence
have to be open to the idea of challenging their brain’s pattern recognition processes
– this is uncomfortable and scary, and often generates defensive behaviour.
Have good organisational diagnostics: can
smell the cheese, but will jump ship.
Get it, and can use the
system – very rare.
Don’t bother –
they are waiting
for you to fail!
They will follow you
blindly – just like
Andy Hines, An Audit for Organizational Futurists: 10 Questions Every
Organizational Futurist Should be Able to Answer, 2003
Why we should care about strategic
The Inescapable Dilemma
“All our knowledge is about the past, but
all our decisions are about the future.”
(Ian Wilson)
Why we need strategic foresight
The world is changing rapidly.
The civilizational challenge (Richard Slaughter) – exhaustion of the Western
worldview and its industrial ecology which, though superseded, remains strong.
Most organisations develop strategy on the basis of the past, and taken for granted
assumptions about doing business today.
Strategic foresight can identify future competitive space – the future contains novel
and unconventional possibilities.
Why we need strategic foresight
The use of futures methods enhances anticipatory consciousness, which in turn
improves…foresight, thus making it possible to act faster or earlier, and making the
organisation or individual more effective in dealing with change. The ability to
anticipate gives extra time to better understand threats and opportunities, develop
more creative strategies, create new product opportunities, and create and share
vision for organisational change.
Giaoutzi and Sapio, Recent Developments in Foresight Methodologies, 2013, page 4
Why we need strategic foresight
For organisations, the future is the strategic destination. That destination represents viability
and hope.
The shape of the future depends on our actions and our leadership today.
 Being a good ancestor today both personally and organisationally – what you put into the
stream that flows to the future will have an impact.
 Moving beyond short term thinking patterns and biases that now shape how we respond to
 Understanding that every decision we make about action to take today is based on some
assumption about the future – those assumptions need to be explicit.
Why we need strategic foresight
Sohail Inayatullah (http://metafuture.org)
 The future is not an empty space – it is an active aspect of the present. It is an
asset and resource to be used wisely.
 If we don’t transform how we think about the future, we will move to the used
future (today taken into the future).
 Human agency matters.
You wanted to know more about linking strategic foresight to sustainability and for
me they are closely linked.
They both share a common starting point: the future matters.
Responsibility for future generations is a common value (being a good ancestor
Collaborative development of solutions is a common operating style.
Both accept that the future of the human race is inextricably linked to the future of the
Both explore the big picture, and identify ways for individuals to change their
behaviour today.
Practical Implications
Foresight is an inherently provocative activity & usually intrigues and/or annoys
people, by for example:
 crossing discipline boundaries & bounded thinking
 critiquing the status quo
 questioning fundamental assumptions
 challenging worldviews
 contesting deeply held images of the future
Provocation is necessary for revitalisation of thinking processes.
From Joseph Voros, 2013
Download Building Strategic Futures Guides:
 Getting Started with Futures
 Environmental Scanning
 Strategic Thinking (almost there!)
Contact Details
Maree Conway
[email protected]
Tel: +61 (3) 9016 9506
Mobile: +61 (0) 425 770 181
Skype: mkconway1
All photos from fotolia.com unless otherwise stated
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