The field of Strategic Foresight was born decades ago. Names and luminaries like Herman Kahn, founder of the Hudson Institute and Pierre Wack of Royal Dutch Shell were the fathers of modern futures thinking, foresight analysis, or scenario planning, whichever moniker you prefer. Kahn formerly of the RAND Institute and founder of the Hudson Institute was the pioneer of nuclear war doctrines and theories based on his futurist work. Wack was said to be inspired by Kahn’s work and in one biography by Thomas J. Chermack, Wack is given credit for developing scenarios that foresaw the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Today, Strategic Foresight is used in dozens of companies across the globe. While it is often disguised as another part of planning or operations, strategic foresight and scenario planning are recognized as a discipline that, when used can reap great benefits. The Futures School by KEDGE is where I first started my formal training in Futures work and where the enthusiastic team provides a deep and rich understanding of the foresight discipline. I will use some of their teachings and information as a basis for my comments here.
What does the implementation of a Foresight discipline do within an organization do? It adds depth and knowledge. “Big deal,” you say, “I can find that anywhere on the internet today.” There are “listicles,” and podcasts and blogs that will tell one everything they need to know to make sound decisions in an organization or company. Perhaps not.
Over the next several posts I will explore the benefits of strategic foresight, particularly as it relates to economic development organizations and communities. So much of economic development practice is based on trends that have already flamed out. The foresight discipline can provide a new way of looking at things.
Strategic Foresight can provide a great opportunity for you and your organization, be it an EDO or a community to stand out from the crowd. Yes, we all know your community has picturesque parks, a quality workforce, and all the infrastructure one needs to succeed. Then why isn’t the world flocking to your doorstep (perhaps if you are Austin Texas, they are, so ignore this sentence)? Perhaps through strategic foresight, a community can make the incremental change needed to move beyond the crowd of would-be contenders.
Strategic Foresight, according to Kedge can help you in four distinct areas: strategy, innovation, change management, and personal development. For EDO’s lets’ tackle the first three post by post.
Strategy.What is it? People always talk about strategy or being strategic. It is commonly recognized as a holistic activity or mindset that informs an individual or organization on tactics and the activities they must undertake to meet goals and objectives. It is the big picture, it is very nearly the vision, but perhaps it is one step back. Strategy, as defined by Merriam-Webster, says it is “the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war.” This is a good definition if one must define ideas in martial or militaristic ways, although I doubt anyone ever thought about it this way when planning for the construction of parks and recreation amenities for their community.
Strategy, as found in our trusted online resource Wikipedia, says it is, “is a high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.” This seems more reasonable under present human conditions unless of course, one does find themselves in the theater of war.
The impact strategic foresight can have on strategy is profound. An organization’s strategy moving forward can be determined in many ways, but usually, it is based on an analysis of past and present conditions, and not the future. The mindset while developing strategic activities, goals or objectives is usually one of developing some rubric based on the familiar strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats or SWOT. That is fine, but how does one inform themselves of those elements or the context of their SWOT? The newspaper? On-line news sources? Podcasts and blogs? Yes, yes and yes. And while there is nothing wrong with those sources, the process of building a strategic foresight discipline will provide greater context and depth than you have ever achieved before.
Trends are what we recognize today as a series of movements, preferences, activities, social constructs, or a school of thought that has an impact on various aspects of our society and ideally statistically detectable. The problem with relying on a single trend or even a bundle of trends as they manifest themselves in our conscience is that they are unreliable by themselves. Trends must be looked at to identify patterns and shifting values, which then can be used to develop new ideas about strategy.
Building a strategic plan on a single or small bundle of trends without digging into the deeper context of the trends and the other trends that are nearby could be a fatal mistake. One trend does not portend the future. Building a strategic economic development plan for a community or a region can potentially encounter a wide variety of issues or trends that can help you recognize a pattern that could have a large impact on your community. The discipline of strategic foresight analysis will help you avoid those mistakes.
Strategic foresight is proactive, not reactive. It allows one to not only consider the future in a different way, it actually provides one with the ability to design the future. As my friends at Kedge say, “You can identify emerging value shifts behind trends, the formation of larger patterns, and the collision of trends. Simply put foresight gives you the full picture.”
I invite you to provide some thoughts about what I have written. Do you agree? Have you used this in your community?