Foresight Infused Strategy
Strategy that uses foresight methods is foresight infused strategy. It is strategy that is designed around strategic thinking that connects the future with today. There are five phases.
Environmental Scanning - identifying change that matters for your organisation, done collaborative with outcomes shared widely, moving beyond trends to identify system drivers,
Strategic Thinking - sharing scanning outcomes means everyone has access to the same information and everyone can use that information to think strategically about possible futures for your organisation,
Strategic Decision Making - creating a preferred future once a range of possible futures have been explored to create a shared future destination,
Strategic Planning - making a plan to help you navigate today's operating environment and to inform actions and decision making, and
Evaluating - we check in regularly to assess impact - did we get the impact we wanted and if not, what needs to change?
This cycle is based on Generic Foresight Process (Joseph Voros, A Generic Foresight Process Framework, 2003) .
How does this work?
This cycle is continuous. Scanning produces information about change that is communicated across the organisation. Scanning focuses on both industry trends and the global, systemic changes that shape trend pathways.
The strategic thinking phase has two steps. The first is where scanning information is used - ideally - in what I call thinking workshops, where people come together to think collectively about the implications of these changes for their organisations - to have a conversation about the future. These workshops are open to anyone in the organisation who wants to participate - not everyone will but offering the opportunity is important.
The outcomes of the thinking workshops feed into what we now call planning workshops but which I prefer to call anticipating the future workshops where people again come together to collectively anticipate possible futures before agreeing on an organisational preferred future.
A plan is then created, not to lock down action that is measured and reported on endlessly, but to provide a guide for people who make decisions about action to take today. The plan is not fixed, it's a tool to help people navigate challenges now and as the future emerges. It helps people stay on track, heading towards the preferred future rather than becoming trapped in the present.
The last phase - evaluating - links back to planning and ahead to scanning. Planning because the plan needs to be seen as flexible and something that changes as needed when the external environment changes. Scanning because the evaluation process will probably identify new things to scan around, while other changes that have been tracked will become less important.
This approach makes it clear that conventional strategic planning as we understand it today is no longer useful for organisations that want to maintain their social relevance into the future. Preparing a plan should take up the least amount of time in the strategy development process. It is an artifact that records the outcomes of the thinking that's gone on the the previous three phases, and it needs to be designed for flexibility not only measurement.
Using this cycle over time allows an organisation to build a collective foresight capacity - the ability to explore possible futures and use the insights gained in organisationally useful ways today. To be able to use the future as an asset, a resource to be analysed and explored today rather than viewing the future as something 'out there', not real, as something quite separate to today's issues and challenges. We anticipate the future every day, not just as part of how we work in organisations but equally in how we live as individuals and in societies.
Perhaps most importantly, using the future to build a collective foresight capacity in your organisation allows you to focus on the impact you want today rather than letting KPIs, targets and the short-term drive strategic decisions and behaviour.
Simply, futures ready strategy that has impact today.
Using foresight helps you answer strategic questions like: what changes are coming that will undermine our current business model; who will our clients be in 10-20 years; and will our organisation be relevant in 10-20 years? Answering these sorts of questions allows you to create strategy that uses the future today as an asset, not something to be observed from afar. It's strategy that doesn't predict, looking for certainty, but rather creates multiple pathways into the future so you can deal with emerging uncertainty and complexity.
Perhaps most importantly, using the future to create the impact you want today is the real benefit of foresight. You escape the tyranny of strategic planning to focus on what matters for your organisation's future, to prepare for the emerging future rather than your only option being to react to it when it arrives on your organisation's doorstep.