What is a foresight culture?

by John Mahaffie on February 26, 2010

Taking a longer viewOver the past couple years, I’ve written about different aspects of foresight from a practical point of view, with the goal of helping organizations become more foresightful. The idea that led to the name for this blog is that it’s critical to have a “Foresight Culture” for success in a complex, changing world.

I’ve even written a brief piece that suggests some descriptors for a “foresightful” versus a “non-foresightful” organization. But I have not, in much detail, defined what a foresight culture would look like. So let me try.
 
There are key attributes of a foresight culture:
  1. Open conversation and sharing of ideas is routine, with people contributing ideas and insights in, but also outside of their areas of responsibility and expertise.
  2. More than a few people on the staff have a habit of looking for new ideas and information, not just in their field and areas of focus, but beyond them as well. We can this environmental scanning, but the most important thing about it is to make it natural, not just an organizational function or procedure. Going with this are habits of, and practice in, converting what you find into insights, and sharing them. There is some advice on environmental scanning here, and thoughts on sharing insights here.
  3. A sense of a wider system – in a foresight culture, people’s thinking is not limited to the sector, technology area, market niche, region, etc. where they operate. They are ready to discover something new from outside the normal realm in which they play.
  4. A sense of the future (beyond 3rd quarter this year, e.g.). this is critical to move the organization from a reactive one to a proactive one. Successful organizations think several steps ahead, and multiple years ahead—they know where they want to be in 10 or 20 years, and perhaps beyond.
  5. An understanding of alternative futures—namely, that there is a range of possibility in the future that we face, that we can shape some of it, but we cannot know, with certainty, what will happen. With this in mind, organizations with a foresight culture work to be prepared for a variety of outcomes, and key their view focused on what’s happening around them, to see at any time, which direction things are moving in.
  6. A sense of empowerment, not helplessness. This goes with the longer-term view—the sense of the future. By contrast, lacking a foresight culture can mean suffering from what psychologist Martin Seligman calls learned helplessness. It yields a fatalism and makes organizations wait to see what will happen, rather than taking a hand in shaping their destinies.
How do you get there? I will write about that soon–there's a lot to say. In fact, many of the posts here are about just that. 
 
Image: by Skittzitilby, via Flickr, CC license

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