Pay it forward

by John Mahaffie on March 11, 2008

Relay runner by Latvian, Via Flickr cc licenseThe way to make foresight more effective is to pay it forward. That means sharing what you find in exploring the future with others, in and out of your organization. And when you get the sharing going, and people will share back. You are encouraging a conversation about the future, and it needs nurturing. Environmental scanning is at the core of effective foresight. But over the years it has often been done by people making scanning discoveries, working in isolation, and holding their cards close. They are not part of a foresight culture, and by working quietly they limit how much they can help the organization cope with the future. There’s a simple principle that can make scanning work better for you and make it valuable to the organizations you are a part of–sharing. You want exploring the future to be a habit for you and your colleagues, and you want sharing what you find out to be also. You can model those behaviors. Get yourself and others in the habit of sharing. Sharing discoveries is how they get put to use in an organization. So when you get an insight on the future, pay it forward. I don’t suggest you become a clipping service for your colleagues. Instead, when you find things with meaning, or, when scanning leads you to a new idea, share it. You can tell it, blog it, illustrate it, email it. Pay it forward. Tell your colleagues what you’ve discovered, and what you think it means. Ask them what they think it means. Make this communication quick and compelling. The backup-an article perhaps, can come later, or you can make it a link in an email. But seize on the finding and let others know about it. Get a conversation going. Pay it forward. Pay it forward is a concept originated a long time ago-there are disagreements about when and by whom. The idea took hold more recently in a book and movie by the same name: Pay it Forward (2000). Its focus was on charitable acts-giving to others in need, and, giving with the message: "don’t pay me back, pay it forward." Our case for the need to share may not be quite as strong, but the impulse should be the same. So share in foresight too, spread the good deed, pay it forward. [Image: by Latvian, via Flickr, cc attribution license]

Update: Please see also this special page on environmental scanning.

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