Looking Back at Looking Forward

sharing knowledge about organisational foresight


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

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

On ethics

After having read what Michel Onfray, Sam Harris and Bertrand Russell had to say on religion and the fragmented moral universe in which we life, I have to say my views on international collaboration and globalisation have suffered.

At one point in the 1980’s I assumed secularisation would continue unbounded but the clashes in various part of the world between the mainstream religions, terror attacks and other tensions around immigration of recent times have put paid to that.

Is is plausible to suggest that distributed networks may be one avenue to seek headway? Is it possible to envisage the articulation of global social and ethical norms that might one day bridge existing chasms will arise from sharing knowledge about cultural norms and practices, and from the fostering of dialogue inhibited by institutions and hierarchies?

November 19, 2007 Posted by | knowledge networks, philosophy | , , , , | Leave a comment


During my recent vacation I read Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams. All about the transfer of power from institutions to distributed networks. The trend to distributed networks is very powerful as the ability to innovate, enhance, and share – the positive feelings/reputation enhancing/business development/economies of scale opportunities, and agility and responsiveness are all very compelling.

So I’ve been tracking the wikinomics website and am looking at the Wikinomics Playbook (a peer produced guide to collaboration in the 21st century. I’m interested in the value systems and generally accepted rule of behaviour that govern online collaboration. In the Tower of Google the statement is made that those who trust collaborate better… and trust is mostly a question of shared value systems.

Well, two apparently diametrically opposed thoughts come to mind:

  • how can there be mass collaboration in a world of fragmented value systems?
  • does mass collaboration mean there is a ‘global value system’ that distributed networking is tapping into?

Cause for some investigation I think.

November 8, 2007 Posted by | collaboration, 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

Locke’s theory of knowledge

Continuing on my investigations into ways that philosophy aids futures thinking and practice. Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Philosophy has a chapter on John Locke’s theory of knowledge. There is one piece that stands out in relation to my interest: the interpretation of ‘reason’ (pages 554-555).

‘Reason’ – as Locke uses the term – has “two parts: first an inquiry into what things we know with certainty; second, an investigation into propositions which it is wise to accept in practice, although they have only probability and not certainty in their favour. The grounds of probability are two: conformity with our own experience, or the testimony of others’ experiences”.

In futures research those developments that are nascent or that are emergent – that may at some time in the future prove to be disruptive – but that are available to experience in the present, are where probabilities can be assessed.

To influence others to take action in response to foresight (that can never be certain) – the acceptance of which requires they should quit their assumptions or opinions and embrace the foresight – takes time and the “common offices of humanity and friendship in the diversity of opinions”.

What is at stake to invoke acceptance and action from others is to engage them in the acquisition of new ‘knowledge’ gained from their examination of information about the issues and the grounds of probability. Where engagement of that sort is not taken, according to Locke we should not expect others to blindly submit to the will and the dictates of another, is like asking them to put aside their reason.

These passages help understand why it is so hard to have foresight understood and acted upon. But what is so often missing is the facilitative environment – humanity and friendship!

July 22, 2007 Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks, philosophy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Change management and horizon scanning

Came across a few jewels (wise advice) in a change management article today (The New Science of Change, http://www.cio.com/) September 15, 2006.

A key message was to resist the urge to provide too much detail – keep to the big picture. As the article states: “If you get too detailed, it prevents people from making the connections on their own”.

Very good point. If people make their own connections they are more likely to own the result. The more you try to explain things, the more people are likely to resist. Fascinating.

Asking people questions forces them to pay attention and prompts them into making connections. The more connections they make, the happier they feel.

Pitching new ideas to drive dumping faded or obsolete assumptions should be pitched as learning opportunities – something that can be seen as of value.

To operationalise horizon scanning insights involves keeping to the big picture, asking questions to prompt connections, and pitch the message as a strategic learning opportunity.

July 9, 2007 Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks | , , | Leave a comment


Continuing my readings in philosophy, according to Plotinus, because reality is less than perfect – and the world of practical affairs offers no hope, “happiness if attainable at all, must be sought by reflection upon things that are remote from the impressions of sense” (History of Western Philosophy, p271). This is the external world of ideas – the perfect world of Plutonian beauty must be a rational abstraction.

This search for the rational ideal helps me to understand the Christian concept of ‘heaven’. It is intrinsically human to want for better things. But the mental hurdles involved in developing and understanding abstract rationalisations is beyond the capacity of the masses – which is why invocations to ‘ believe’ and ritualised behaviour are substitutes for reason.

There are parallels between thinking about the longer-term and rationale ideal states – both go beyond impressions of the senses.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks, philosophy | , | Leave a comment

Clash of cultures or world economy?

Fascinating article by David Brooks (New York Times) on the theologian John Mcmurray’s influence on Tony Blair.

There’s a quote from Blair “Globalisation begets interdependence, and interdependence begets the necessity of a common value system to make it work” and later “We are witnessing the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community”. While economic globalisation is mature, the politics are not. What is needed are multilateral institutions to act in pursuit of global values.

This ‘international interdependence leading to world community’ view prompted thinking at the local community and organisational level. As far as politics go, this view suggest there is a need for collaborative institutions between Federal and State governments in Australia.

In a policy sense there are indicators of advancing multilateral collaboration such as the inter-governmental work on anti-spam. The driver is again global with the internet being an international network of networks. Jurisdictions are realising they share recurring internet security and privacy issues. What’s more, the creative and innovative thinking behind e-security initiatives are attributable to informal networking.

At the organisational level, a similar ‘clash between cultures’ occurs. Divisions internally are barriers to whole-of-organisation, or multiple line area collaboration. The resolution of these problems is to have informal networking foster coalitions of understanding and self-help on mutual interests.

May 12, 2007 Posted by | collaboration, Globalisation, knowledge networks | , , , , | Leave a comment

Creative thinking

When contemplating the architecture of the internet and its effects in business, socially and in government, most can grasp that it is very different from the communications and media platforms of the past. Conventional wisdom based on control, scarcity and defined boundaries do not work in the internet society. A fresh approach with creative thinking lies behind new, innovative business models and services… and that approach is more likely to work in developing new policies and regulations for the governance of the internet.

In today’s The Age newspaper there is an article that draws on a recent biography of Albert Einstein authored by Walter Issacson. This observation caught my eye: “If you look at Einstein’s major theories – special relativity, general relativity and quantum theory of light – all three come from taking rebellious imaginative leaps that throw out old conventional wisdom. Einstein thought that the freest society with the most rebellious thinking would be the most creative”.

A similar creativity applies in scenario planning. I project managed Vision 20/20: Future Scenarios for the Communications Industry – Implications for Regulation. The methodology tapped into the imaginative power of individual and group creativity.

When evaluating and interpreting the outputs from the scenario workshops and expert feedback, it became clear to the project team that the conventional wisdom supporting the legacy regulatory framework should be discarded when developing new approaches. Imaginative leaps too are necessary in developing new policies and regulations that work in the internet society… and that is yet to happen.

April 28, 2007 Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks | , , | Leave a comment