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

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

Organisational philosophy

Over December – January I like to have a good book to read. My latest was Peter Watson’s Ideas – a history from fire to Freud – an excellent work. Happily for me it transcends most of my favourite material – philosophy, history, politics, economics, sociology. Perhaps the greatest attraction for me was that history is a fundamentally important point of reference in strategic thinking.

One of the more relevant sections of the book covered the origins of science, philosophy and the humanities. I realise that so much has been said about the continued influence of thinkers like Plato and Confucius. What I offer here is an organisational futurist perspective on this.

For Plato, the object of spiritual life was concentration on abstract entities. Much of thinking about the longer-term is abstract conceptualisation over time – a sustained concentration if you like. Logical reasoning is an element of concentration but Pluto it must also have disciplined intuition resulting in an ‘ecstatic self-transcendence’. For most us having an epiphany – a moment of sudden and great realisation – is as close to ecstatic self-transcendence that we are likely to experience. Pluto’s pure essence of ‘The Beautiful’ (ideal beauty) becomes available by intuition, study (the logical reasoning bit) self-knowledge and love. Now, how much of that apart from study was covered in my MBA/BA? How much of that occurs at work? Stuff all mate! Actually one of my MBA lecturers said that I have a big heart. The CEO of an organisation that I worked for 12 years ago said that I was ‘nice’ – but perhaps too nice climb the corporate ladder. There is a pattern there! Would Pluto have made CEO? Socrates paid the ultimate price…but I digress.

In a contemporary organisational sense, I think Plato’s pure essence can be encapsulated in the art of contemplation. Certainly for an organisation to ‘contemplate’ requires extraordinary discipline. Effective strategic thinking within an organisation requires contemplation – by individuals, and in groups through strategic conversation. I attended a Future Summit in 2004 (organised by the Australian Davos Connection) where representatives from the private and public sectors agreed there is a need for contemplation – but also that so little is actually done, and the political election cycle acts as a constraint in taking the long-term view. But there is a dilemma in all of this and it lies in the nexus between the individual (and individualism) and the community.

Watson wrote about the origins of individualism in ancient Greece dating from the decline of the city state (community) and the rise of centralised power in the governance of nations. With centralised power the primary concern is self – people retreat into themselves. With individualism, all are islands. What is more, Watson observed that a powerful state is hostile to free thinking because it threatens centralised power & authority. From my experience command and control organisations don’t warm to free thinking either. Here is one element of the dilemma – free thinking is a way to suspend judgements and assumptions that underpin current systems and values. Or you may prefer this take on it ‘thinking outside the square’. So hard for many organisations.

Watson’s piece on Confucius is relevant here too. Confucius said that universal order and harmony is only possible where people show a wider sense of community and obligation than their and their family’s self-interest. Lets put a contemporary take on this by substituting ‘learning organisation’ as the goal…on the face of it easier than ‘universal order and harmony’. But how easy really? To be a learning organisation its people need to show a wider sense of organisational obligation than their and their branch/sections self-interest. Yeah, right. Here is where Machiavelli comes into my analysis.

Machiavelli concluded that a person will always tend to act in their own selfish interests – and the only defense is this state. As life without the state is unthinkable (harsh brutal and short – where have I heard that before) the maintenance of the state requires justification beyond its survival. So when it comes to politics, this ends always justifies the means. No ideal beauty in that.

Promoting strategic thinking in organisations in effect asks its individuals to show a wider sense of community manifest in strategic conversation with others. In command and control organisations, with business function and processes justified on reason only, there is little chance of community strategic knowledge and action. The powerful self-interested core is in command of the conversation.

Now to draw the link to the title of this post. Those that practice the art of the long-term view in organisations really are organisational philosophers where they succeed in disciplined intuition. They must suspend their own self-interest to see the wider sense of community and to tap into whatever pure essence or ideal beauty that might be achieved – which for me is the creativity and value from a community engaged in authentic strategic conversation.

I have a great respect for Richard Hames – a self-styled ‘organisational philosopher’ who likes to say that he asks questions that no one else does (or at least not the high priests of the cathedral)
So add philosophy to the string of skills that organisational futurists have – including facilitation, planning, analysis, relationship management, presentation and excellent written and oral communication – the subject of a future posting.

February 24, 2007 Posted by | foresight, philosophy | , , , | Leave a comment