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How much foresight can you fit?

Perhaps the biggest inhibitor of foresight for organizations is time. Even if your organization recognizes the power and value of exploring its future, the press of daily work and immediate needs squeezes away the time and energy you might give to exploring change.

You only have the time and resources you have. You have to find a way to fit in foresight. Below is advice based on how much time you expect to have. Certainly more is better, but you can optimize impact with some care and thought no matter the timing. As always, a savvy futurist can help to shape your efforts and help you guide them. And I am happy to chat about your situation whether or not you engage my help.

What to do if you only have….

An hour — you finally got time on leadership’s agenda, or it’s your turn for a brown bag lunch talk. You want to change minds, wake people to new ideas, energize thinking about the future, give foresight its due. This is hard!

Get right to it. Make it a conversation, seeded with distinct insights on change. Pose “what ifs” about what is central to the organization.

Have a conversation about the critical forces changing the organization’s destiny. That means surfacing everyone’s assumptions about the future, and helping them interpret the big changes that are at play in your business and your sector.

Do this: Prepare, prepare, prepare. An hour is not enough time for group discovery, which is valuable and powerful when there’s more time. It has to be a call to action around one or several (at most) critical changes you face that need focus. This hour should end with collective interest in more. If you have a hour with top leadership, it should lead to permission to deepen the exploration of the future in the organization, and more time.

A day — you have a little more time with a small group or a cross-functional team, and you have a mandate to explore something about the organization’s future.

Make the most of it! Make it quality time, preferably off site, to pare away distractions. Get everyone focused on exploring change and what it means to the organization. You have time to give participants a clear sense of coming change, and for them to take ownership of it, adding their ideas.

Do this: Do your homework beforehand. Develop a briefing or find a valid and meaningful, and short, body of ideas about the future of your interests, such as a list of critical forces or transformations in the sector. Use those as the basis for discussions. 

If you can, invite people from different responsibilities in the organization. Think like a revolutionary. Your goal is to seed ideas and interest in confronting change and deepening the team’s foresight.

Hold people off from immediately “solving” the problems implied. Try to get their energy first on elaborating on potential change and its implications. End with a call to further action.

A week — You’ve secured teh team’s time for a week of futures exploration. A week is time to learn and strategize with a select group of folks. That has power since those involved can discover and interpret critical ideas about change. They can learn to talk about them and prepare to be missionaries across the organization.

Do this: Identify the best team you can for open-minded exploratory thinking. If you can get a cross-functional group involved, do it.

Shape expectations in the wider organization for what you are doing. Find people and experiences that will help your team understand more about the future and how to think about it. Visits to places where you can see leading edge change, and hearing from diverse thinkers will open up your thinking.

Ultimately, it’s hands-on shaping of futures ideas, and a focus on postive visions of where the organization can go that will matter. Your team should play in the future, try out ideas, and then work to interpet what is possible, what is likely, and what is desirable in the future.

A month — You’ve gotten time for several iterations of futures thinking, and time for ideas to evolve and develop. A month is long enough to allow more development of ideas, time for reflection, and time to engage others beyond the core team. The time allows team memers to go off, do research, and expand your knowledgebase.

Do this: Plan to have two intensive sessions with a week or several between them. After orienting and launching the thinking, you can have team members commit to exploring and developign ideas for further discussion at a second session. 

You may have time as you start or in the middle of the month, to engage a wider group of stakeholders with a survey or other process for soliciting ideas. That has two payoffs. First, it engages others and helps encourage their interest. Second, it draws on more people’s insights and knowledge, empowering the core team.

A year — You have time and a budget for a much deeper exploration, engaging more internal an external stakeholders, and an iterative process of learning and discovery. This will be a full-blown futures initiative, a chance to explore and develop a comprehensive view of the future of and for your organization.

Do this: Establish and train a core team in foresight techniques,. Assigning them to complete a comprehensive exploration of the future shaping the organization’s interests. They will have time and should have resources for attending thought-leader conferences and futures-focused symposia. 

Among the programs to consider are workshops on the future that engage the thinking of folks across the organization. Building, illustrating, and publishing scenarios [TK links] that show alternate future contexts for the organization will create a tool for use with internal and external groups to further explore future possibililties.

This program year should include its own public relations. At least for internal groups, setting expectations for results, encouraging participation, and communicating emerging results will help ensure that the foresight effort leaves a legacy. Some organizations include in this a space, such as a “futures room” where images and words can be displayed, and where visitors can interact and add their own ideas, e.g. on a post-it wall. 

When you have built a view of the future, you should share it widely. Brief the chiefs, your board, and key stakeholders. Publish the thinking. Convene groups to make their own interpretation of the work, fitted to their interests.

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No matter the time you can secure and use, if you use it well, you will have a smarter, more foresightful organizatio.

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