Q1. Why focus on conversations?

As I've worked with people over the last 10 years, it's become very clear that what creates change, what shifts people's ways of thinking and operating is having conversations about things that matter with their peers. The conversations I design aren't a random chat - there is a process, there are questions and there are learning objectives, all designed to strengthen your capacity to think about the future in new ways to be proactive in your responses to change today.

Q2. What is foresight?

Foresight is a way of developing a range of views about possible ways the future might develop, and understanding them well enough to help you make effective decisions today. It's a process that informs strategy development and it's also a cognitive capacity that allows us to imagine what doesn't yet exist. The point of thinking about the future is not to get the future right which is impossible, no matter how many people make inane predictions year after year. The point is to make sure we don't get the future wrong - and we do that by preparing for the future.

Q3. Why bother thinking about the future?

Because the world of which strategic planning was developed no longer exists. Once upon time, organisations faced low levels of complexity and a fairly basic foresight capacity was sufficient to be futures ready. Today, where our environment is complex, uncertain and emergent, we need a deeper foresight capacity to be prepare for the future. Low rates of change and complexity in the last century meant that a single, linear pathway to the future was enough. Now, as we face a fundamental shift in how we live and work, this linear view has been stretched to breaking point. Building our individual and organisational foresight capacities will allow us to think in multiples and create many pathways to respond to the emerging future. The real point of any foresight work is not to try to "get the future right",which is impossible expect by luck, but to make sure that we don't get the future wrong. The former view tries to predict; the latter view prepares to adapt.

Q4. Why integral futures?

Integral futures provides a systemic, holistic view of organisations, integrating invisible individual and cultural beliefs and values with the visible organisation, how it operates and responds to the external environment. For me, it a frame that lets us recognise the centrality of people to preparing for the future and the need for our organisational leaders and processes to facilitate ways to bring people together to have conversations about the future.

Q5. Isn't foresight just like doing a SWOT?

No. Experts on strategy such as Henry Mintzberg have characterised the essential difference between strategic planning(using SWOTs) and strategic thinking (using foresight). Mintzberg argues that strategic planning is about analysis - the breaking down of a goal into steps, designing how the steps may be implemented, and estimating the anticipate consequences of each step. Strategic thinking, on the ohter hand, is about systhesis - using intuition, creativity and foreisght to formulate an integrated perspective or vision of where an organisation should be heading. In other words, strategic thinking is concerned with the setting of the goal itself, not the steps needed to bring it about, which is the realm of strategic thinking.

The confusion lies in the belief that analysis encompasses synthesis - that strategic planning, strategic thinking and strategy-making are all the same thing This belief itself rests upon the further assumption tha prediction is possible, and that the strategy-making process can be formalised. Predicting seasons is possible for example, but most things in an organisation's environment are beyond prediction, so stragtegic processes based on prediction and single-line projections may be dangerously inadequate. Foresight is designed to open up an expanded range of perceptions of the strategic options available, so that strategy-making is potentially wiser. Once strategy has been set, the formal procedures of strategy planning are needed to keep everything on track. Foresight is an aspect of strategic thinking, which informs strategy making, which inform strategic planning and action.

Q6. What things predicted by futurists have proved totally wrong or been completely unforeseen?

This answer was orginally published as an answer on Quora and has been reprinted here with permission of the author, Jennifer Jaratt.

Futurists have been wrong about lots of things, no question. A couple of things you learn when studying to be a professional futurist, however, is that you don’t make predictions, and that everything you say about the future is likely to be wrong.

Your usefulness as a futurist tends to be your ability to scope out the possibilities of the future and to help people figure out the best strategic approach to the opportunities or challenges ahead of them.

As we know there are lots of people out there who make predictions about the future that turn out to be wrong. You perhaps, or they themselves, call them futurists. I wouldn’t.

Have said all that in defense of the futures studies field, I note some areas where, if you are a futurist, it is good to be careful. One is technology forecasting. It’s our experience that predictions, or forecasts of a technology’s likelihood of widespread adoption is often overly optimistic. One example might be flying cars, which were often predicted—and indeed some have been built. But the problems of widespread adoption and popular appeal have been too big.

So timing is often a problem. Gerard K. O’Neill’s beliefs about colonizing space are years ahead of our actually being able to do it. Yet his long-term views are among those visions helping to drive people’s hopes, imagination and discovery towards new space ventures.

You can find lots of lists online of future predictions that were wrong, mostly because those people making the predictions didn’t want to see these happen.

Sadly, we warned back in the 1980s (and based on the work of reputable scientists) that climate change was happening and was a big issue that would require new governmental, business and social macro strategies to either slow or manage its effects. We believed there would be some substantial work done on the problem and some effective global strategies in effect by today, which hasn’t really happened. We were wrong about that.

Q7. Can I share what's here on your site?

You sure can. I have made this information available under a Creative Commons License. The version I use means that you can use, remix and share as long as you attribute the source by citing "Maree Conway, Thinking Futures" and indicate if you've changed the work. Thanks!


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