Looking Back at Looking Forward

sharing knowledge about organisational foresight

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

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

a thousand tomorrows on climate change

Today’s email from the ‘a thousand tomorrow’s blog described four scenarios on responses to climate change developed by Open the Future. One of the critical uncertainties was between centralised and decentralised control – seen as fundamental uncertainties about how the future will play out over the next few decades.

In the decentralised control scenarios collaboration dominates.

This analysis is very close to Vision 20/20.

November 27, 2007 Posted by | collaboration, foresight | , | Leave a comment

Environmental scanning

I managed to read a bit more from Thinking about the Future today. There is a chapter on scanning…and the recent advances in “more intuitive sources of information”. Ok. Plus they advocate probing more deeply into the potential implications. It’s about “understanding and acting…more quickly”. To understand what’s emerging is to make sense of it.

Both of these are potentially powerful for use in organisational strategic thinking.

Knowledge creation comes from sharing data and information and making sense of it. There is a good outline here:

Another useful role of the diagram shown here is the clear distinction between data, information and knowledge.

November 21, 2007 Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks | , , , , | Leave a comment

Operationalising foresight

I’m reading Thinking about the future: guidelines for strategic foresight, edited by Andy Hines and Peter Bishop (www.socialtechnologies.com) My interest in getting this book is to make use of foresight. The last chapter ‘Acting’ is the most interesting from that point of view.

Interestingly the focus is on either avoiding undesirable futures or moving towards a preferred one. In other words, describing the strategic landscape is only a forerunner. To get action, the risks and opportunities must be made clear. Then map out plausible pathways so that the organisation can choose the way forward. The strategic analyst must be capable of developing a plan of action.

The first message for me is to understand the organistation so well that the foresight can be framed in terms that stakeholders understand. Functional descriptions would be a useful starting point. This approach is also useful in that functions are already aligned with business objectives and outcomes.

Secondly, make use of the preferred means of processing information – the communication style of the organisation.

Thirdly, the thinking style of the organisation is likely to be concrete, detailed and here-and-now. Meanwhile the thinking style of the foresight analyst is about complexity, ambiguity and the longer-term. Differences in worldview also apply. As the books states “someone with a preference for competition and victory may not understand someone with a preference for participation and egalitarianism” (page 195). This knowledge may be obtained by interviewing people, or in conversation. Knowing the underlying beliefs, values and culture of individuals is important.

Forthly, in presenting alternatives for action, workshop the options with decision-makers first. The resultant recommendations for formalised endorsement will already have support.

This is all good stuff. It also supports may analysis some time ago about foresight competencies. As well as the style of thinking above (and as described in other posts on this blog) other skills include:

  • facilitation
  • presentation
  • interviewing
  • relationships
  • planning
  • pyschology
  • sociology
  • philosophy

November 1, 2007 Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks | , , | 1 Comment

Distributed collaboration

Today I participated in a seminar in Melbourne run by www.education.au. The subject was A Vision for the Future with a keynote address and group discussion with Howard Rheingold.

In thinking about the future, Howard talked about a key uncertainty: centralised vs decentralised control. The debate on network neutrality out of the US is an example of the tension between centralised control and distributed control likely to spread around the world. The uncertainty is the extent to which network operators discriminate about what traffic they allow over their network. I agree with Howard’s expectation that this issue is likely to spread around the world. Another example of this key uncertainty is over copyright, or digital rights management.

The open nature of the internet enables innovation at the edge. The threat is if innovation is centralised – or as Howard put it, Who will control innovation?

Guess what? The same tension was identified in Vision 20/20 (see posting below). More on this later.

October 2, 2007 Posted by | foresight | , , , , , , | Leave a comment