handcrankAre you in a place where you want to kick-start foresight, but you are not sure how to start? You can start simple and you can succeed. But you probably can’t just leap in with a big splash, even if you’re the chief. You need to lay some groundwork.

Below are seven ways to get started that will help you:

  • Test the waters for foresight in the organization
  • Get the organization used to the idea of exploring the future
  • Learn how to explore your future effectively, and learn what works best in your situation
  • Build a name for yourself in your organization for foresight

What you can do:

  1. Have an actual conversation about your organization’s future, an open, thoughtful, creative one, with colleagues. Then talk about how it went, what it meant to everyone, and how you can have more—far more such conversations. This is a show-them-what-it-would-be-like moment, and may be essential to building your case for more foresight. You could establish a pattern of having lunch discussions on critical futures topics, such as “first Friday” of the month. If you can get interesting future-focused guests to share insights, so much the better
  2. Find kindred spirits in your organization that will join you in exploring the future, and encourage you, remind you, challenge you in doing so. You might do this by sharing an article or blog post on the future, and seeing who seems interested. Or schedule a brown bag lunch discussion, e.g. as described in no. 1 here. Keep in touch with these folks, involve them, seek their counsel. Build a foresight community.
  3. Do environmental scanning–Start learning about the wider world of forces, trends, issues, challenges, and opportunities that you face. That means carving out some time to do what is called environmental scanning–exploring for new trends, ideas, issues across all sorts of media. Join listserv and other online discussions on the future, and become a channel of new insights from those into your organization. It won’t seem like you are doing your work at first, maybe, but as soon as you discover fresh insights and see how they fit, you’ll feel justified in the time spent. You probably do these things anyway. Bring a focus to it, and pay out results.
  4. Pay it forwardPay it forward means sharing your new insights on change as widely as you can, as noted. Pick up the role of scout for things important to your organization. Share discoveries, and build yourself a reputation for valued insights.
  5. Find outside encouragement, e.g. joining with others in professional associations who explore the future and strategy. Examples include the Association for Professional Futurists, the World Future Society, the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals. Some of those organizations have local chapters and each has a vigorous online presence. They are not expensive to join.
  6. Get visible about it–Commandeer a wall, whiteboard, or similar, and put some questions up: “What are the top trends shaping our future?” “What are we not talking about that we should?” Get a conversation going, share and nurture the comments.
  7. Play the role of futurist–Make a habit of saying, in every reasonable place at a meeting or in a discussion, “can we take a moment and look at how this plays out, longer term?” Playing this gentle but persistent futurist role will keep the future a part of the conversation. Be the futurist in the room.

Good luck!

Image: www.sodahead.com


2429091134_b829eb0d2c_mUltimately, your efforts around foresight–for their relevance, for their impact, for the willingness of your stakeholders to engage and get behind them, come down to agency*. How much room for action, maneuver, and strategy do you have or can you have?

Your degree of agency will shape expectations that you or the team you work with will take on a smaller or larger scope of change. To build agency, you probably have to take up new roles.

Consider the Low Hanging Fruit model I wrote about earlier. Most players have a little bit of maneuver, and some have a  lot. The low-hanging fruit, those actions that don’t imply big spending, revolutionary change in the organization’s operations and systems, and, to put it simply, don’t require much permission, those are easy, doable–middle level executives, or even an individual, may have the authority (agency) to take positive action.

But the levels considered more serious–big-systems change–require a lot more stakeholders to be on board: the boss, customers, regulators, the CFO, board members, etc. Your or a small team you assemble to explore change cannot act alone. Your agency is insufficient.

And in foresight, nearly always, you will discover a wider arena for action, or bigger strategic moves that make sense. In my work, it’s routine for executives to find, as we work on the future together, that they need more permission, more buy-in, more access, maybe more money than they expected. Scratching the surface of change reveals far more that needs reconsideration. The small question becomes a big question.

You may lack the agency to take the issues and changes you discover on, and you will need to build further capacity to orchestrate change. That means playing new roles you may not be used to.

New roles you’ll play: Missionary, Salesperson, Politician, Counselor 

Making the case for change with rationales, data, explanations, convincing arguments. If the future state you anticipate is to be understood and believed in, you will need to make it so. This means you are a missionary.

Getting buy-in from the executive-level. They may need to have “been there” to truly see the need for the strategy, so you will need to bring them into the conversation, give them rationales. This demands you be a salesperson.

Getting buy-in from the rank and file. This next wave of change will benefit from far more people being on board, if not in the decisionmaking, then in the rationales for the changes. Your “big system” changes will affect far more people. And change is scary, mysterious until explained. This may mean you are a politician.

An ability to surprise people without being rejected. You can’t usually go into a fresh look at your future without encountering surprises. In fact, if you don’t you are probably not being effective. Your surprises will probably be even more unexpected for your constituents. For this you will need to soothe fears, you’ll be a counselor.

So look for how you need to build agency, and consider what roles you are stepping into. It will make a difference to your success, and break down some of your frustrations as you confront the need for change.

Image: Mariano Kamp, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License

*I define agency here as: the capacity for exerting power or control in order to change something.


Every little act changes the future

April 1, 2014

For this little thought experiment, a tip of the pen goes to Tomás Vargas, a young man of sixteen who likes to ask questions, to ponder, to turn thinking upside down and try it out a different way. So regular and wide-ranging are his musings, I’ll bet he won’t even remember his comment to me […]

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What people say when you ask them to think about the future

March 18, 2014

Here are four things I hear all the time from folks I am working with, their reactions to me pushing them to think about the future. “Thinking ten years in the future is really hard” Yes, but the rewards are great in exploring the possibilities, as best as you can, and discovering a range of futures […]

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Regret shapes the future, but so does satisfaction

March 10, 2014

In a controlled study, researchers found people routinely willing to swap similar pens with others, but less willing to exchange lottery tickets. The reason? The lottery ticket in your hand has a potential future value which may—you don’t know—exceed that of another ticket. You don’t want to swap away a ticket that might turn out […]

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Is your focus past or forward?

March 7, 2014

This blog post from a couple of years ago Are You a Paster, Presentist, or Futurist? offers a nice thought experiment on the idea that people may be focused past, on the present, or toward the future. It’s not deeply developed in the piece, but the idea is one worth exploring, and it fits my discoveries about […]

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Organizational DNA and readiness for the future

May 29, 2013

It can make a difference in an organization as it grapples with change to have a breadth of experience and perspectives among its staff and leaders. But too often, organizations unwittingly push out the people with different perspectives and thinking styles, favoring those with a familiar background, mental makeup, and so on. It’s a mistake. […]

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May 24, 2013

For some thoughts on anachronisms in foresight and fiction writing, see my post at JohnMahaffie.com, “Anachronisms“

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Foresight: Seeing the big in the small

May 23, 2013

A problem I face when deciding what ideas about the future to share is that people tend to have heard of most cutting-edge things I might tell them. Why is that? It’s because the future is well known, or at least specific things about it are. But sitting just behind the “famous” truths about the […]

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Not good enough

May 20, 2013

There’s bad news for an awful lot of organizations. Their grip on the future is weak or nothing. They react, instead of responding and acting. Their view is narrow instead of broad. They think they know the future, but their grip on it is superficial at best. Why? Ideas about change and the future come […]

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