I talk to many people about the value of strategic foresight - what it is, why it matters and how to use it in practice. Some people immediately 'get it', others don't and don't want to, and others ask me questions like 'what other companies use this approach?' or 'can you provide some case studies?' Readers will know that I have just a tiny aversion to providing case studies because the best way to know if foresight approaches will work for you is to use them. I'm not talking about the type of case study used in MBA courses, although I have my doubts about them too. I am referring to examples of organisations using foresight. It's probably one of the most frequent questions I get asked when I talk about foresight.
I realise that when people ask me this question they are asking of proof that foresight 'works'. The thinking underpinning that question is 'if it works for one company, it will work for me' or 'I can't recommend this without case studies to back it up'. And that's what we do today. Trust benchmarking implictly, ask for evidence that something works before we do it, accept it to be so, before we are wiling to spend time and resources using that approach. Think that if it worked for something else using that process, it will work for me.
And that's fair enough if you are mired in evidence based decision making. Unfortunately there's a flaw in that thinking.
Ultimately case studies are about the past, a snapshot of what someone did at a particular point in time with a particular set of tools. Because the approach described worked once for someone in their organisation at that time doesn't mean it will work for you in your context now or in two years time.
Learning about what worked in one organisation at one point in time with a case study helps people understand what was relevant when that organisation used foresight, and that approach may or may not be relevant for the future. The case study doesn't have universal value forever.
Instead of case studies, I can tell you about the most commonly used foresight methods, when to use foresight approaches and when not to bother, which tools might work best in your context. But I can't give you proof that using foresight will work absolutely in your organisation, for your people, with your wicked problems, every time.
So ask me not where has this worked before? so that you have proof. Ask me instead how can this work for us? That tells me you are looking for insight.
The world around us is shifting with velocity. The way we did something two years ago probably can't be replicated exactly today and will be probably be irrelevant in two years time, not only because the world has changed but because there will be different people in the room.
Foresight is a cognitive capacity. First and foremost, it's a state of mind. Foresight is about thinking before taking action. It's about developing insight about what the future might bring to your organisation. Using a foresight process won't be successful if there isn't a corresponding shift in thinking about how to use the outcomes of that process.
Without the thinking shift, you can adapt the same process someone else used and not have useful outcomes. The value of foresight comes from people shifting how they think about the future and working together to become futures ready.
How successful using foresight will be at your organisation therefore depends not on how successful it was at another company but on the ability of your people to recongise and surface their foresight capacity and apply that capacity to thinking collectively about their organisation's future.
Once there is a critical mass of people in the organisation who 'get it', that sense of spinning the wheels and going nowhere, of being subsumed in busyness, of being too busy to think, of never seeming to get any closer to a goal will begin to lift. Being futures ready gives you a long term context for decision making today. For understanding what matters and what might seem important but is a waste of time.
If you find yourself saying I don't get foresight, you have two choices really: (i) recognise this is an opportunity to explore creativity, vision and innovation on the way to becoming futures ready, or (ii) push back and stay with conventional strategic planning and its formulaic approaches that gets you a plan that fails when it meets the future.
If you think there's something interesting in what I'm saying, but don't really understand it or know exactly what I'm talking about, then you are ready to use foresight. Come talk to me about how to get started.