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Constrained foresight and what to do about it

How often is foresight (or the lack of it) the weakest link in an organization?

There are always constraints that limit an organization’s progress. Eliyahu M. Goldratt brought this idea to management science in his “Theory of Constraints”. And one constraint is the “weakest link” for an organization. The bottleneck created when packaging equipment runs more slowly than the production line is a common example.

Constrained foresight is a bottleneck
Often the constraint is embodied in the organization's policies and paradigms (see: LINK). Engrained beliefs or habits restrict fresh thinking and thwart change. Foresight may be the victom.

What limits foresight? Low tolerance for talk about the future, a lack of awareness of its value, and insufficient time spent constrain foresight. People in organizations are busy and stressed. Leaders rarely reward people for breaking away from their “real work” to explore change.

Insufficient foresight harms an organization’s ability to change, its capacity for product/service/brand innovation, and the quality of its strategymaking. The organization flies blind into the future. 

Five things you can do about it: 

1. Acknowledge the value and unmet need for foresight. This means building a constituency for futures discussions and for including views 5 or 10 years out in strategic discussions.

2. Find forward-thinking people in the organization that can connect with each other, collaborate, and extend thinking into the future. They can meet ad hoc, or better, regularly for futures discussions.

3. Add futures thinking to your diet. Others are doing valuable work for you, free. Follow bloggers and news feeds that curate and interpret trends and discover leading edge change. And pay it forward—share what you find with your colleagues, and tell them why it’s important.

4. Harness the tools of foresight: environmental scanning and trend analysis and scenario planning, especially.

5. Convene cross-functional groups to assess the organization’s systems for their futures-readiness. An outside futurist can bring the tools and instincts you need to make sure these discussions keep to a longer view. (Call me! 202-271-0444 and jbmahaffie@leadingfuturists.biz)

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