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Fighting back for foresight

With great regularity, journalists and other writers pen pieces on the decline of futures or on failed predictions. Our professional futurist colleagues have often boiled this down to a shorthand: “where’s my flying car?”

We have often joined our colleagues in the Association of Professional Futurists (www.profuturists.org) to compile responses to these pieces. The World Future Society (www.wfs.org) also works hard to counter misperceptions about futurists and foresight work. Most in the field feel that the field is doing well, and that attention to the future is improving around the world. That many of our colleagues in organizations have futures job titles and responsibilities is good evidence for that.

At Leading Futurists LLC we believe foresight is doing well, but that we have more battles yet to fight. The value proposition of the field is changing from provocative “out there” thinking to ideas about change that organizations can respond to today.

Foresight and futures thinking tools are becoming part of everyday strategy making in organizations. Futures-minded people serve on or consult to teams as the people who understand the inevitability of change and what it means to the organization. They bring a knowledge base about the future to bear on an organization’s strategies and actions.

But though foresight is gaining ground, in too many organizations short-term thinking reigns, and it dominates in society overall. We battle the widespread conviction that what is relevant is the immediate scene; this quarter’s performance and today’s issues. Short-term thinking is a condition of organizational life, and it will drive out habitual foresight, if we let it. So let’s get to work on the problem.

Making foresight a daily habit of more people in more organizations is a new kind of work. It is different from just being provocative and wowing an audience with gee whiz ideas about startling new technologies. Here’s what we need to do instead:

  • Keep the future on the agenda, bring up trends and themes of change in work meetings and planning sessions
  • Change what people expect when you talk about the future from the gee whiz, to useful, actionable ideas about emerging challenges and opportunities
  • As you get a new insight on the future from your scanning, think about who the 5 or 6 people in your organization are who you know should see it. Send it along to them with a comment or interpretation. Any busy colleague will appreciate it.
  • Show people how to think about change. Model this by giving people an image of the future that relates to a question they are grappling with. For example, in the packaging sector, you imagine for them a near term future in which every package has a radio-frequency ID tag on it for automated inventory and checkout.

These are some of the things to do to normalize foresight and make it a daily habit in your organization. They are steps toward truly having a Foresight Culture.

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