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8 reasons to explore the future

I have seen the future

A few years ago, I led a futures workshop for a client. Afterwards, while we waited for our flights together, he said “So, John, what’s the multiplier on this?” I knew right away he was not wrong to ask, and that I couldn’t answer. He meant, “What is my return on investment for the workshop? In his company—like most—ROI was the way to assess the value and payoff of money spent. Caught a little off guard, I mumbled something at him about how “you can’t put a price on …”
It’s hard to measure the payoff from foresight. It is like brand development, or PR, or perhaps an executive development program. You know it is good to do, but it’s hard to measure the outcome in ways that others, especially CFOs! will believe in.
If possible, you should stay clear of trying to measure the value of foresight in conventional ways. Instead, understand how to talk about its power and payoff for your organization. Learn to sell that to your colleagues and whoever is paying the bills. You’re faith in foresight isn’t enough. You will need to show them specifically “what you get” when you explore the future.
In this post, I am sharing reasons for foresight in simple, workaday terms. These are reasons that you can use in understanding, explaining, and justifying your use of time and resources in exploring the future. Maybe these are things you can tell the boss:
1.      We need to give the future the attention it deserves: there are things we need to understand better as we make decisions and take action.
2.      Let’s get our heads out of the sand: We need to spend some time, together, on the long-term goals of the company, and not just worry about our individual “turf”.
3.      Let’s get everyone’s assumptions about the future out in the open, since they shape how we make decisions, our strategy discussions need to be done with clear thinking about what’s going on in the world, and where things are headed. We don’t have to have consensus, but we need to know where everyone is coming from, and take a clear-headed look at what we believe is true.
4.      We need to make sure our plans make sense. Everything we do ought to be evaluated against how the future will shape up, otherwise, we will make the wrong decisions.
5.      We need to decide what to do next – not just roll along doing what we’ve been doing. Let’s not miss new opportunities just because we didn’t get around to thinking about them.
6.      We need to get un-stuck: A clear look at the future can help us see beyond our current problems and issues—they’ve got us truly stuck, let’s get the team focused on the positive –what we can do, not what we can’t do.
7.      We will be more successful if we create our future together: with more of our people, our clients, with and other stakeholders involved. We need to get people on board, so they are ready for the changes we are going to make.
8.      Let’s not be blind-sided by change any longer. We can pick up on the weak signals, anticipate what might happen, lay some plans and contingencies for it, but most importantly, make it into opportunity.
This post has a close cousin: Making the case for foresight: 9 reasons why a global crisis is a critical time to think about the future. You may also find good arguments for your foresight initiatives there, especially as our economic crisis continues.


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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Dominique Jaurola April 22, 2009, 8:49 am

    Hi John,
    Good – easy to roll out – sentences. I think they ‘attack’ varying issues organizations face and the types of language that might work for them. I can recognize this sort of dialogue from work in corporations.


  • John Mahaffie April 22, 2009, 8:53 am


    Thanks, that was the target I was aiming for, not the formal style of business rationale, but the roll-up-your-sleeves, what do we really say to each other version.


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