How do futures approaches ‘add value’ to those processes we now call strategic planning? Organisational planning processes usually focus on the relevant industry sector and mainstream trends, both locally and globally, and develop strategy in response. This focus is essential.  So what's different with futures approaches?

Futures approaches consider a wider range of issues and trends beyond an industry, including emerging issues, and more general societal issues and trends.

Futures approaches usually go beyond visible trends to look at the systemic drivers underpinning those trends.  Some futures work attempts to surface and challenge the assumptions underpinning how those trends are analysed and interpreted. Trends are not confined to a particular industry, and interactions, collisions and intersections between trends are explored in depth.

Futures approaches identify and use wider sources of information from the mainstream and the periphery, as well as seeking to source tacit information held by individuals.

Futures work uses a long term time frame. Futures work in a strategy sense is undertaken to inform decision making today. Thinking systematically about the future is not about trying to get the future right through prediction and forecasting, but aims to explore potential longer term impacts of decisions that may not be visible if the time frame used in strategy is only short term.

Futures work aims to surface and challenge assumptions that underpin current thinking and decision making. These assumptions are often grounded in deeply held beliefs that are hard to shift, even in the face of clear evidence that they are not true or no longer true. Surfacing assumptions is hard work, because it involves individuals recongising their blind spots and biases, and this can often be uncomfortable.

Futures work can be inclusive.  Because foresight is an innate human capacity, everyone in a university or organisation is capable of thinking strategically.  Futures approaches provide opportunities for staff to be involved in an authentic way in the process of exploring options about the future.

The quotes that follow demonstrate the value of integrating futures approaches into strategy development.

Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future development. Roman engineer Sextus Julius Frontinus, 1st Century AD

Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction. Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology, Toulouse, 1872.

Heavier than air flying machines are not possible. Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1895

The aeroplane will never fly. Lord Haldane, British Minister of War, 1907.

Space flight is hokum. Astronomer Royal, 1956

Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out. Decca Recording Co, rejecting The Beatles, 1962

I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers. Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

But, what is it good for? Attributed to an engineer at Advanced Systems Division at IBM, commenting on the first microchip.

There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment, 1977

640K [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"][of RAM] ought to be enough for anybody. Bill Gates, 1981

Using futures approaches might just help avoid making statements like these!  But, remember, at the time these statements were made, they were probably considered to be realistic and accurate in the current context and given what we know. It is only hindsight, coupled with our knowledge of the present, that allows us to recognise how short sighted these statements were.  Yet, every time someone 'predicts' what's coming, they are at risk of making a statement equally as stupid as the ones here.

All our knowledge is about the past, yet all our decisions are about the future.  The future is characterised by uncertainty, and much that we simply do not know.  Worse, we do not know what we do not know.  For anyone to claim certainty about the future is, at best, misguided and, at worst, arrogant.  We need to acknowledge uncertainty and seek to better understand it, not try to explain it away with predictions.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]