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The promise of foresight


"We never get together like this"


It is my privilege and delight to regularly be a part of workshops and gatherings in organizations focused on exploring the future and looking for new business opportunities. One of the things that happens at so many of these events is that people talk about how great it is that they have spent time thinking beyond their day-to-day concerns. They never do that.

They say it’s great to sit down with people from across the organization—out of their “silos”. They never do that, either. They come away happy, enthusiastic, and energized. That happens even if they have discovered tough new challenges and risks that they face.

That is the promise of foresight, done well and with the right people. That’s why you should do it. It leads you to have conversations you don’t normally have, with people you may not engage with enough, about a longer term future.

The other benefits and rationales for exploring the future are real, and valuable. But just getting the conversation started is where you begin to reach for the promise that engaging your future offers you. 

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Garry G September 9, 2008, 11:48 am

    Long live foresight and futures studies!

  • Maree Conway September 9, 2008, 11:55 pm

    Hi John
    What do you think is the difference between ‘planning’ workshops and ‘foresight’ workshops? I have often heard the comment in my time in universities that it was great to get everyone together to have a ‘non-routine’ conversation about planning (it doesn’t happen much there either). But, these weren’t foresight workshops. I am thinking it has something to do with the focus of the workshop (ie the present or the future), and the difference in quality of the resulting conversations that emerge from the different time focus. I think being able to tell organisational doubters about the value of foresight that one of the big advantages is the connection that will emerge across the organisation is a real selling point for foresight workshops?
    Maree Conway

  • John Mahaffie September 25, 2008, 8:34 am


    I would like there to be no difference between a planning workshop and a foresight workshop. But in reality, a planning workshop tends to be all about getting to action–so it’s the thing most executives most want to do. Our careful balance is to get people to plan with an eye to future. That should be obvious, but typical planning is about catching up with what organizations have failed to do, or feel is critical right now.

    We’ve often had to help people do planning and foresight in combination in recent years–there’s no patience for doing them in a sequence, and the time for both has been shrunk, so it’s essential for people to internalize foresight habits and thinking, and advocate for the future in their planning work.

I'd love to hear your thoughts