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Avoiding “fire, ready, aim”

Good foresight is part of ensuring that an organization doesn’t act before it thinks. It’s essential to try to understand the present and future conditions the organization faces. We want to avoid “fire, ready, aim” and try to be sure we know what else is changing around us and what future we’re facing before taking action. [See “Execute, Yes, but Execute for the Future”]

For this reason, Leading Futurists LLC tries to work carefully with clients to help them fit foresight into their organizational processes.

It would be fantastic to have futures thinking pervade the organization—that is the theme of this blog and is what “foresight culture” means.  But as a practical matter, most big organizations will only find time and resources to give the future explicit attention at certain times and places. How can you make the best choices about that, and make what effort and resources you can give go farthest? Here are some central considerations:

  • Readiness: of the group or team to open up their thinking, seize on new insights, and put them to work in the organization’s thinking and strategy. A work team and its leadership need to explicitly discuss and agree on a process that welcomes new ideas, including ones from outside their usual view of things and often, outside their comfort zones.
  • Timeliness: Efforts in exploring longer-term forces and trends, and their implications should come early enough in a planning cycle, in strategy building, and in the innovation process to benefit the processes. We don’t want to look at the future after developing strategies and action plans, for example, when the futures view would very likely have shaped the plans differently.
  • Regularity–so that thinking about the future isn’t so rare as to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable when it happens. Regular, ideally, means always. But if the organization is not going to make foresight an explicit part of its efforts all the time, there should at least be an annual process of enquiring comprehensively into the big forces and trends shaping the business.
  • Prominence. That enquiry should be a prominent and widely-shared effort, so that the most possible numbers of people benefit from insights on the future and can share, in return, their ideas on the implications for the business of the emerging future.

We have found that our efforts on the future for organizations are most valuable when they are part of a “zero stage” in the planning, strategymaking, or innovation process. That means part of the exploratory work done first, in “opening up the question,” and ahead of the usual organizational process stages.

So here’s where you might “put” the foresight part:

  • Day one, in the morning, of the corporate strategic planning meetings
  • In the briefing and background work in advance of a strategy process
  • In the early stages of assembling an ad hoc team to explore a new issue or opportunity area, after sufficient team building, but before the team narrows its focus to key organizational issues and challenges
  • In a meeting/workshop with vendors or customers, to ensure that more of your stakeholders are along for the ride with you in exploring the future, and that they are aware of where your new ideas come from
  • As an ongoing effort to fuel and R&D team’s thinking on emerging opportunity areas, as a part of regular team meetings, or as regular electronic briefing by email or newsletter
  • As a group blog topic shared by a work team or across a cross-functional group
    As a comprehensive exploration and analysis of the future of a critical topic: a sector, technology area, etc. with reports done in the lead up to big organizational initiatives
  • As an annual environmental scan for issues, trends, and opportunities, aimed at informing leadership and strategymaking at all levels.

Most often, a good exploration of the emerging future shapes directly the question of what should be on the table for consideration. We don’t want to fire first and aim later.

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