The last post The Paradox of the Future 1 outlined the nature of paradoxes and the need to craft futures ready strategy to address the tensions that arise from them. This post provides a framework that allows paradoxes to be explored and reconciled for now. A reminder of the definition of a paradox I'm using:

A paradox is “a situation in which two seemingly contradictory, or even mutually exclusive, factors appear to be true at the same time…A problem that is a paradox has no real solution, as there is no way to logically integrate the two opposites into an internally consistent understanding of the problem” (De Wit and Myers 2010, p. 17).

Dealing with paradoxes requires generative thinking that supports rethinking of current approaches to take advantage of emerging opportunities or develop responses to challenges. It's about thinking in new ways about the future and the impact of what's changing. How do we develop the capacity for generative thinking and strategic foresight?u

 Five Levels

I've adapted Richard Slaughter's five levels for the development of social foresight for the organisational setting. Richard writes about social foresight in this way:

"All normal human beings have the innate ability to think (and act) forward. Without this capacity people would be unable to function in daily life. Some organisations use limited forms of foresight as part of strategy and planning. But societies as a whole tend to be powerfully guided by past perceptions of problems and, overall, lack any developed foresight capacity. Hence we have a contradictory situation:

  • humans have and use foresight
  • some organisations use limited forms of foresight
  • society as a whole largely lacks this capacity, therefore
  • it travels blindly into what appears to be an 'unknown' future."

His framework for the development of social foresight has five levels:

  • Level 1: Human capacities and perceptions - foresight is an innate human capacity but it is used in unreflective ways in daily life
  • Level 2: Recognising their foresight capacity enables foresight approaches to be applied - foresight concepts and ideas become influential in the organisation
  • Level 3: Using foresight tools and methodologies increases analytical power - organisations provide training and resources to use foresight approaches in strategy development
  • Level 4: Foresight  approaches are routinely used in the organisation
  • Level 5: Social Foresight  where long term thinking is the norm - for organisations, this level is where consideration of the future underpins decision making

I have adapted and renamed these five levels by combining levels 2 and 3 as shown in this diagram:

St Foresight

Individual Foresight Capacity

It all starts with the individual and their values and beliefs about the future and how things are done today. You can only craft futures ready strategy if each person transforms the way they think about the future. But...you can't transform another individual's ways of thinking. This is why change management programs fail - the change management program is put in place with new structures and roles, but the way the organisation works doesn't change because the beliefs, values and mindsets of individuals have not been tapped.

If people don't recognise the value of the future today and if the organisation doesn't value the future in its decision making, it will be difficult to implement the remaining stages with any integrity. Recognising and surfacing and using individual foresight capacity is the pre-requisite, but this doesn't happen overnight. It comes from being given the opportunity to learn about foresight, what approaches can be used, what it means for organisations and why we should care about it.

Individuals in Action

Individuals in action in organisations integrate the foresight conversations and learning and using foresight tools and methodologies - these need to happen at the same time. Providing spaces for conversations about how to use the future without knowing about foresight approaches will generate little more than interesting conversations. Knowing about and being trained to use foresight tools as well as having the opportunity to talk about the future and how it can be used in the organisation allows the next step to be taken. The Generic Foresight Process is my preferred way of facilitating this step.

Critical Mass of Foresight Aware Staff

This is the step where there is a critical mass of foresight aware staff who "get foresight" and are given permission to integrate foresight into existing strategy approaches. This is the design phase, where foresight is contextualised for the particular organisation to ensure that its use makes sense and generates useful and relevant outcomes. This is the stage where the use of foresight approaches become routine in strategy development.

Strategic Foresight Capacity

Once strategic foresight approaches have been integrated in strategy development, once those ways of thinking long term can't be deleted from the strategy process when a new CEO arrives, when people accept that using strategic foresight is "just the way we do things around here" is when there is an organisational strategic foresight capacity. It's at this stage that futures ready strategy is being developed.

Using Strategic Foresight

Abstract: Busines strategy for the futureNone of this can be learned from a book in any meaningful way. Of course the principles, the range of tools and approaches can be read and understood but application is another matter. There's no one size fits all. Context matters when it comes to using strategic foresight.

Selecting methods to use is critical to ensure the process matches your organisation's foresight maturity. How those methods are executed matters if you want useful and meaningful outcomes rather than comments like 'well that was interesting, now back to the work waiting on my desk'. Poorly executed foresight methods and superficial outcomes are two of the  major reasons foresight exercises fail.

Customisation of the five steps involved in using strategic foresight makes it possible to deal with the paradox of the future in ways that make sense for your organisation right now. A continuing commitment of time, resources and energy is required to do this well. Given the space we find ourselves in where our organisational hierarchies and processes are becoming too slow for a world that is moving awfully quickly, do we have any choice?