Looking Back at Looking Forward

sharing knowledge about organisational foresight

Being strategic

Whinenever I see the word ‘strategic’ in front of say, a job title or a department – ‘plan’ even – i tend to feel somewhat cynical. Most organisations, most people are not strategic. They are overwhelmingly focused on tactics and internal politics.

There is an interesting post by Gord Hotchkiss that illustrates my point. Gord’s message is that:

“Strategy demands that you ask tough questions of yourself. It challenges your beliefs. And that’s a hard thing to ask of humans. We’re wired to ignore anything that might cause us to change our mind. …It’s a lot easier to focus on a tactic. We like to master things, and you can do this at a tactical level.”

Yeah, sure…thinking strategically is hard. And to think strategically, you must lift your head from preoccupation with tactics it get a feel for what is actually happening that challenges your assumptions/business model/policies or whatever. It’s not easy…but it is being ‘strategic’.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | Strategic | | 2 Comments

Motivation to go forward

I’ve just come across a great quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I so relate to:

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievements; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither defeat nor victory”

Strategic thinking, scanning, forecasting and reporting involves thought experiments, testing perceived patterns and inter-relationships with others, making mistakes along the way…and emerging with insightful analysis.

Thanks to Rob at 3eep for sharing this.

May 29, 2008 Posted by | collaboration | | Leave a comment

Lagging behind present realities

I’ve started to read Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs and was delighted after having read the first page. Mr Sachs topic is economics for a crowed planetobserved that “for the past two hunddred years, technology and demography have consistently run ahead of deeper social understanding”. There is “a pace of change unprecendended in human history” and that “our philosophies, as a result, consistently lag behind present realities”. Quite so.

A similar dilemma exists for organisations in coping with the pace of change as it impacts on the entities functions and relationships. Structures and strategies are based on what has gone on in the past – an increasingly lag behind present realities. As my last posting observed, foresight helps people see what is going on in the present with more clarity.

I’m looking forward to reading through Mr Sachs book…and looking for ways that others may percieve that foresight helps to cope with today’s major challenges such as climate change, energy policy and income disparity. Mr Sachs states that ‘global cooperation will have to come to the fore”. Quite so again!

May 5, 2008 Posted by | collaboration, foresight | , | Leave a comment

Evidenced-based research and foresight

Some policy and regulatory organisations strive to be evidenced-based and forward-looking at the same time. As there are no facts about the future, and the future is highly uncertain, there seems to be a dilemma here.

My way around this is through developing foresight (anticipated change) and then monitoring ‘sign-posts’ to provide evidence about the direction things seem to be heading. Interpreting indicators provides feedback information to review actions based on previously anticipated change.

The value-add from foresight is being able to see the present more clearly. We can only make judgements about the future based on what we know is happening in the present – although that capability does require continuous updating of trends and developments. So much of what goes for ‘evidence’ struggles for continued relevancy in times of rapid pace of change – such as now.


April 22, 2008 Posted by | foresight | , , | Leave a comment

Flexible Firms

On to chapter 10 of Johansen’s Get There Early describing the emergence of flexible firms. Coincidentally, I read chapter 10 after having completed a work project in quick time.

The task was to review emerging trends looking out five to ten years and produce a concise overview along with organisational implications.

The process was networked, drawing on domain experts horizontally and put together without going through all of the normal hierarchical approvals. All done in super quick time.

How did this happen? By following some principles of networked engagement. In chapter 10 Johansen describes the principles of engagement applied by the IFTF. Several of them applied to my own experience as above.

These are the ‘principles for flexibility’ that have worked for me:

Courageous opinions, humbly expressed – where diversity of perspectives is mandatory. Provocative, strongly held points of view are of value…but only those expressed with humility, respect for others, and thoughtful reflection on alternative views.

Give generously, ask respectively – working as teams is a co-dependent situation, having trust and confidence to work together. This requires being “direct with one another and express our opinions honestly, not through back channels”. It is also about valuing silence, listening and contemplation.

Honor essential processes – follow core business practices while minimising administrative and management processes.

March 9, 2008 Posted by | foresight | , , , | Leave a comment

From insight to action

Chapter 8 in Johansen’s latest book and starts with a fantastic quote:

Have deep roots, a strong trunk.
Live long by looking long.
– Lou Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I love it. Tzu evokes the great strength of thinking in the longer-term.

To me ths starts in developing deep knowledge about values, beliefs and historical events in society. Apply that wisdom of the past to examining manisfestations in contemporary institutions, the legal, commercial and political systems and cultural mores and so on… to begin to understand what drives and underpins behaviour.

It means having a broad perspective and an inquisitive mind…along with a drive to make sense of what’s happening through identifying and understanding connections between events and people. From this, go on to develop a sense and feel for what may shape society over the horizon.

A degree of confidence develops to act in ways more likely to make a difference – tested by playing out possible consequences and possibilities in the longer-term. And all qualitfied of course by the need to continuously deal with complexity and emergence.

Lao Tzu apparently expressed his wisdom some 2,500 years ago….again reminding us that some things do not change. Us. Tzu main focus was survival. Today we think about sustainablility. The same discipline applies.

February 3, 2008 Posted by | foresight | , , | Leave a comment

Get there early

Have just started reading Bob Johansen’s Get There Early – fabulous so far. Bob’s mental model of foresight…the VUCA acronym and the ‘foresight to insight to action cycle’ … resonated with me.

The future is highly changeable – there is a constant state of flux and change – the future cannot be predicted, there are many possibilities – things could go this way and that. In other words there is volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Scary for some…many would rather take flight than begin to understand the many inter-related issues.

The way around this is to take what many do – sensing what’s new – to another level. That is, make sense of it (insight) … developing an understanding and clarify what is happening in the present. Out that a clear sense of direction can be formed (vision) so that timely responses or resilience to events (agility) can be actioned. In other words, instead of taking flight, VUCA empowers you to fight!

Drawing on his service as CEO of the Institute for the Future, Bob is doing us all a favour in authoring this work.

January 17, 2008 Posted by | foresight | , , | Leave a comment


I read Ross King’s biography Machiavelli over the break. I found it a fascinating and insightful view of Machiavelli and life in 15th century Europe. How things have changed….and remained the same!

King identified an inherent conflict in Machiavelli’s thinking which I feel is very profound. On the one hand Machiavelli held that “Men are unable to master their own natures” (p176) effectively stranding the individual in a form of perpetual stasis.

Whatever influences through birth or environment work to forge the individual, once developed norms of behaviour are hard to change. Unable to learn either from the past or adapt that which is emerging they act as passive vessels… mistakes and history are repeated.

So much for freedom of action. How can a Prince dispense wisdom and advice to others and expect them to change.

There are obvious parallels with operationalising strategic thinking and achieving organisation change. Perhaps it is better to act in collaboration with like minded individuals working through interconnected networks.

January 13, 2008 Posted by | knowledge networks, philosophy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Business Ecosystem

Came across this European Commission initiative today. The DBS is an open, web-based collaborative research and software development forum to development applications for small-to-medium enterprises. Participants are from research institutions and business.

Interestingly the DBS applies systems-thinking to its task. The intention is that, like all ecosystems, users can learn, interact with others, adapt applications to suit and continue to have these applications change and evolve over time. Of course this involves complexity – through the constant interaction between users and applications.

To quote the site, the most exiting development is “the use of software applications and services that are able to ‘evolve’ and to organise themselves in a way that is optimised for the end user.”

This initiative is commendable but it is not clear how successful it has been. I have come across online research/collaborative communities that appear to have been launched with a great deal of enthusiasm and vision…only to trail off to disappointment.

Still, this is one to look further into.

December 16, 2007 Posted by | collaboration | , , | Leave a comment

Blended realities, blended lives

The Institute for the Future’s Technology Horizons 2008 Research Agenda article ‘Blended Realities, Blended Lives’ looks more like the present than the future. The article notes that the “wireless Web, virtual worlds, augmented realities overlaid on top of physical ones, advanced simulations and networked knowledge promise to transform our everyday experiences…”.

In today’s The Age there is a report on research into the web and social networking. The article claims one in five Australian’s “feel their online identities were closer to their ‘true self’ than their real-world identity [and that] many are defining themselves through their virtual identities”.

That is certainly consistent with IFTF’s view that “our personalities are becoming multiple and portable”. Even the forward-looking statement that we will soon be “able to carry our avatars from one context to another…from Second Life to…Google Earth” seems to be very near future given the trend towards integration (of social networks, other web sites, communication tools).

I’ve posted on the emergence of multiple identities:


and on Protagoras, “man is the measure of all things; of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not”.

People have always had there own distinct view of ‘reality’, there own way of making sense of and interpreting things. I see the growth of multiple virtual identities as being complementary to ordinary life…through dreaming, art, conversation. The Web enhances creative expression.

December 3, 2007 Posted by | foresight, philosophy | , , , | Leave a comment