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Breaking out of your specialty for better foresight

Professionals and executives face a danger of narrow thinking. As they gain expertise and knowledge specific to their operations, products, and so on, executives’ attention can narrow to just the essential things they must focus on. They understandably go to conferences, visit facilities, invite in vendors, etc. in areas tightly connected to their day-to-day responsibilities.

In this highly responsible and understandable behavior, they are actually doing themselves and their organizations harm. They are perfecting their capacities in dealing with present day needs—the current line of products or services, tweaks they might make to it, and, at best keeping an eye out for alternatives—probably cheaper—for what they offer now.

Their behavior is like that of an air traffic controller who has his/her eyes on the tarmac but not on regional radar—you know what’s here, maybe what’s scheduled, but not what might arrive from elsewhere.

The business executive has to have two radar screens. On one is the current operation and the forces and factors shaping it. The other screen is for the long view—those things outside the current realm of activity—including outside of the current business—that could or will become important.

So the role for foresight in the organization is to help people switch on and understand that second radar screen. You need to work hard to get people to look beyond their usual boundaries and see what might become important later. Often that means knowing about social change, new technology, and new business practices that are not yet a part of their business. You can literally draw that radar screen for your colleagues, and have them help you think about what should be on it. It may help to draw the existing view, and compare the two.

Futures tools and techniques are all about doing expanding thinking onto that second radar screen. Futures work involves presentation/workshops that deliver insights for the second radar screen—what’s happening that is not yet adequately part of a group’s thinking. We work through that to also get people to surface their assumptions about the future. We get them to finding meaning—they are the experts after all—in emerging trends and issues in the world. If you focus on those needs in your organization, and assign yourself the foresight role, you can help open up the thinking, and help your organization build a stronger foresight culture.

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