A Foresight Lens: Building a futures mindset

What I’ve learned is that when you’re changing at the level of a world view a mental model or a paradigm, whatever you want to call it, people do not accept the evidence, they’re not interested in taking on new ideas because what it threatens is their world view and it threatens the work that they’ve done, the things they’ve habituated to do, the techniques they rely on, so nobody really wants to eagerly encounter a new idea if it requires that level of shift in what they do and how they think.
— Margaret Wheatley, Capa, 2014city Building in Emergence - I-Open
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How an organisation faces the future is constructed by the people within and external to the organisation, as they apply their beliefs about, and ideas of the future to interpreting data, to making decisions and policy, and to creating strategy. At the core of all this activity are conversations about the future.

our foresight capacity

The industrial era lens we use to make sense of the world today is breaking down. Long trusted ways of knowing and operating are no longer working for us as individuals, organisations and societies. We individuals need a new lens, a foresight lens, one that allows us to see the world more expansively, deeply and inclusively today and think in meaningful ways about the emerging futures. A new mindset.

Using the future today

A foresight capacity allows us to use the future today. Thinking with foresight is expansive, open, collaborative and long term. It pays attention to systems, change forces, interactions and patterns. It’s beyond the mainstream, strategic, cross-disciplinary and cross industry. It is a capacity that can and must be developed at all levels of society from the global to the individual.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.
— Alvin Toffler
Usually a subconscious capacity, we need to surface and use foresight to move ourselves out of the past and into the space where we transition from the present to the future.

A new mindset

Engaging our foresight capacities allows us to see the world differently, escaping the tyranny of strategic planning, moving beyond the confines of industrial era, command and control thinking and operating. A mindset that first sees the world as it is emerging to see alternative ways of understanding what is happening today and multiple pathways into the future.

Futures agency

We shape the future today through our action and inaction, and out individual and collective decisions and choices today. Each of us can decide to face the future or remain in a failing system by our inaction. Ultimately, the future starts with each of us: using our individual agency to act collectively is fundamental to preparing for the future today.

The mindset needed to face the future respects the past, seeks to understand the present
and asks new questions to create and move towards the future.

Facing the future

In my work with people in organisations I see first hand the struggle people are engaged in today, trying to make sense of the disconnects between rhetoric and action and trying desperately to act with goodwill and hope. Organisational culture is a powerful contstraint to thinking about the future. If the 'way things are done around here' is trapped in today, the organisation will be unable to face the future. It is individuals using their futures agency collectively that allow organisations to face the future.

Thinking with foresight

There is no single, linear future ahead of us; instead we have multiple possible futures emerging today. The future is never predictable no matter how many people make predictions; we have choices about and responsibility for shaping the future today. The future does not yet exist so our actions and inaction today matter. Using our foresight agency to engage collectively and inclusively with the future's complexity and uncertainty creates pathways into the future. 

The work of foresight is being able to read the scene and make useful sense of things that are ambiguous and complex. The work of foresight is to mobilise human energy to engage constructively with uncertain and disruptive futures.
— Peter Hayward, Welcome to the New Normal