Clear the future by following the F-O-R-E-S-I-G-H-T principles!
Dealing with the future can be a messy process. No one knows what’s coming but there are plenty of hints and clues available to make it much more understandable. By remembering a handful of principles, the organization can create an efficient approach to anticipating the future.
Systematic foresight process
Since the information about the future might be fuzzy, you need to make it understandable. Information gathering about future business environment works nicely by following organization-wide procedures. However, when you work further with this information, you need different approaches. Megatrends, trends, weak signals are dissimilar by nature, and different tool sets are needed to analyze and make sense out of them. Scenario work deserves its own approach. A systematic foresight process is equipped with methods that enable teams to share their best knowledge, find relevant facts, and develop meaningful conclusions, quickly and in a structured way.
A starting point for the efficient foresight process is information gathering. An innovative and forward-looking organization creates efficient mechanisms to collect relevant, business-related information about the future. The only things that are needed are motivated employees and practical tools to support them. The information should be found from one place, categorized systematically, and put easy accessible for potential users.
Get the big picture
One of the key challenges of foresighting is to create a big picture of relevant phenomena in the future. The tools used should enable efficient discussion about interrelationships and connections of different phenomena. Quite seldom, it is just one single trend or weak signal that creates a dramatic impact. More often, a bunch of interlinked trends drive the world in a certain direction.
Highlight historical development
If you can’t understand the history, you are unable to predict the future. The rule of thumb is that you should analyze historical steps backwards twice as long as you would like to predict the future. Historical development does not guarantee that the future will be the same, quite opposite. However, by studying developments of the past, you are able to put the investigated phenomena into context. The foresight team should understand e.g. how the trend has been developing, in which stage of the S-curve the trend currently is, and how the industry has reacted to the trend previously.
Foresighting work should be done for a certain purpose, e.g. to help make strategic choices or innovation decisions. It is important to concretize the work in such a way that the results lead to appropriate action. Organizations should think of long- and short-term impacts of trends and future signals. If the foresight teams push far enough, they can even get ideas for new innovations or strategic actions to respond to changes in the business environment.
Jarno Poskela, D.Sc. (Tech.) is senior partner at Innotiimi-ICG. His recent consultation and training projects have focused on innovation management, development of innovation capability, experimental innovation and foresighting. He has consulted half of the TOP-50 companies in Finland and helped also public sector organizations (e.g. the European Parliament) to develop their innovation capability. Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JarnoPoskela