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

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

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

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

Who am I? Who are you? Who are they? What is that?

One’s ‘identity’ usually applies to the physical you. With digitalisation and the internet, ‘identity’ in addition means email addresses or instant messaging addresses and ‘presence’ – being online or not, or being in a particular location or not (location-based); ‘digital identity’ – details of a physical person that are uniquely identified through biometrics and turned into digitalised data that is stored on the web; ‘virtual identity’ – the form one might take on in social networks such as Second Life, or in other web-based applications. The development of a ‘universal’ ID is a plausible idea given the forever multiplying forms of electronic addresses and digital identification tied to individuals and entities.

In time, with developments such as augmented reality, the physical characteristics of people, or groups of people and things (such as buildings) will be alterable in accordance with a users’ preferences. What would that do to one’s perception of ‘identity’. One’s virtual or digital identities could potentially be alterable by design or perhaps even by harmful intent.

Physical identities are either associated with a physical location (eg. home address) or with an individual (eg. photo driver licence). Telephone numbers are allocated to physical identities. In a digitalised and globalised world, physical location is less relevant. People and entities can be ‘present’ anywhere at any time. People and entities can have multiple internet addresses and multiple virtual personalities. So ‘place’ and ‘physical’ are declining in relative importance.

Might there one day be a need for integrating identities or reassembling identities to some form of international or jurisdictional standard?

April 15, 2007 Posted by | foresight | , , , | 1 Comment

More on philosopy

In the History of Western Philosophy Bertrand Russell observed that “modern definitions of truth, such as those of pragmatism and instrumentalism, which are practical rather than contemplative, are inspired by industrialism as opposed to aristocracy” (page 42). The absence of strategic thinking (contemplation) in many contemporary organisations appears to be due to the dominance of pragmatisim, and in my view incrementalism – products of the industrial age. Consequently those that are in effect destitute of the long-term view are comfortable in judging those that articulate foresight as foolish.

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” (page 83). So each man in the measure of all things. There is no objective value in truth. There is no objective value in foresight.The absence of objectivity makes the majority – or at least those that dominate – the arbiters of what to believe. Foresight must be expressed in ways that are of practical value to the majority – or to the dominant – to be influential.

April 10, 2007 Posted by | foresight, philosophy | , , , | Leave a comment

Personality types and the art of the long-term view

I recently had the chance to go on a Relational Leadership program at Mt Eliza (Melbourne Business School). One of the features was the most comprehensive Myers-Briggs personality assessments. I compared my result with others, looking for preferences that lend themselves to the art of the long-term view. Four types stood out: INFJ, INFP, ENFP, and INTP (with a little ENTJ). There is just one common element ‘N’ for intuitive. The other interesting result is that ‘S’ types (sensing world) do not fit the mould at all.

I’ve paraphrased some of the characteristics by type. INFJs seek meaning and connection in ideas and relationships (i.e. systems thinkers). INFPs are curious and quick to see possibilities. They are adaptable and flexible and they seek to understand people. ENFPs are imaginative – life is seen as full of possibilities (born optimists). They make connections between events and information very quickly (the big picture). INTPs are theoretical and abstract…and interested in ideas. They are also flexible and adaptable (tolerant of ambiguity and complexity?). I’ve included ENTJs for their preference for long-term planning and goal setting. I’ve taken this test about three times now. I scored an ENFP but really fall between and ‘E’ and an ‘I’.

So what’s the rub? The sensory world does not have a preference for the long-term view. According to Machiavelli (more about him later) most people don’t really believe in anything new until they have actual experience of it Standardised processes and protocols are the norm. Their focus is on the immediate sensory experience – their own work – rather the whole. The future is seen as being nebulous and of no value.

Problem is that the longer-term view is abstract, conceptual and holistic. It most certainly helps to have a good imagination and an intuitive feel for inter-relationships between people, events and things. Nothing is certain. Thinking about the future disturbs the present.

That helped me to understand why promoting strategic, long-term thinking in organisations is so hard. More on this issue later.

January 30, 2007 Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks | , , , , , | Leave a comment