The strategic planning industry has done a good job of convincing everyone that strategic planning is the whole game when it comes to developing and implementing strategy. As a result, everything - scanning, thinking, assessing, writing, measures, monitoring, reviewing - gets lumped together under the banner of 'strategic planning'. What usually happens then is that a whole lot of energy goes into writing a beautiful, glossy plan [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][...] rather than strengthening the thinking that informs the goals and actions in those plans. If strategy is the art of an entity confronting its external environment to ensure its continued development, then there are two elements to that art - one is the acting to do something to 'confront' the environment, the other is a cognitive or thinking component which determines what those actions will be (as defined by Joseph Voros from Swinburne University of Technology).  Right now, the focus in strategy work is predominantly on the acting or doing part - writing the plan and executing it.

Foresight is the cognitive aspect of strategy development. It's called strategic thinking. And the mindset needed to think strategically is not the same as that needed to write and implement a good strategic plan.  Foresight is about exploring and coming to understand as best we can the shape of possible operating environments for our organisations, and using that insight to inform our actions today.  In this space, we need to comfortable with ambiguity and complexity, be able to take a systems perspective, have an open mind and deal with incomplete information. Planning, on the other hand, requires a mindset that is about implementing, taking action, reporting and bringing things together.  Both thinking and acting capacities are needed for effective strategy development and implementation.

Both activities require organisations to commit time and energy the processes. But because foresight is about thinking, its outcomes are usually intangible and, in the current evidence based world, spending money and time on the intangible is often not supported.  A plan, however, is a tangible product that can be displayed to internal and external audiences as justification for much time and money being spent preparing it.  It is time we regarded thinking as work too, and invested in holding thinking workshops before we start writing a plan.

Developing a foresight capacity requires opportunities for all staff and stakeholders to have their say about the future of the organisation and for CEOs to have open mind and be willing to have their views challenged. It's a continuing process, not a once a year planning workshop. It's about understanding what the future might bring and how you can influence that future. It's about building a shared view of a preferred future and then writing a plan to get you there. And, it's about keeping it simple, and not over-complicating the process with volumes of data, formula, models and software.

If you think that strategic planning somehow magically includes foresight, then you do so at your peril. You can't develop a foresight capacity in your organisation by holding a half day working with your senior management team to talk about trends.

This type of planning is based on what we know about the past and the present, and an assumption that the future will be more of the same. If you take this stance, you risk writing a plan that is superficial and that you have to throw out the next time there is a shift in the external environment. You will be pursuing a reactive approach to the future - waiting until an event or shift forces you to take action - waiting until the future hits you in the face.

Before you begin your next planning cycle, ask yourself these questions:

  • do we understand how we connect and interact with other organisations and the external environment?
  • how deeply are we questioning our ways of operating?
  • do we operate from our interpretation of the past, or our anticipation of the future?
  • are our assumptions today valid into the future?
  • how far into the future are we looking?
  • do we understand the shape of alternative futures for our organisation?

Ask 'what might we do?' before you ask 'what will we do?' and you will be starting on the path to developing a foresight capacity in your organisation.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]