The COVID-19 pandemic shredded the plans and strategies of public, private and nonprofit organizations globally. Those responsible for risk analysis, business development, strategy formulation, systems and planning, and overall leadership are struggling to understand what may come next as we emerge from the crisis.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a surge in interest in Strategic Foresight (albeit from a low base). Strategic Foresight, or simply Foresight, is a structured and systematic way of using ideas about the future to anticipate and better prepare for change. In circumstances of great uncertainty and complexity, and where the time frame concerned stretches into the medium-to-long term, Foresight methodologies can help an organization trying to make sense of the future.
Here are ten benefits that Foresight brings to organizations that use it:
1. Promotes innovation
Foresight nudges organizations into thinking more broadly about possibilities, including fresh ideas, approaches, products and services. In the process, it stimulates innovation to address challenges that emerge from alternative future scenarios.
2. Enhances agility
Foresight leads organizations to anticipate deviations from today’s norms and trends. With Foresight, organizations begin to think differently about how to achieve their goals, the various paths for achieving those goals, and the diversions and obstacles that may appear along the way. Organizations using Foresight are more agile and better situated to adapt quickly to changes.
3. Tests critical assumptions
Policy is always based on assumptions, some implicit, some explicit. Foresight challenges assumptions and can uncover invalid or otherwise flawed assumptions that form the foundation for important decisions and plans.
4. Enhances Resilience
An organization that uses Foresight strengthens its capacity to bounce back quickly from difficulties. It also draws attention to possibilities of a low-probability, high-impact event that might mark a change in direction for a trend or system (a black swan event).
5. Improves competitiveness
Foresight strengthens an organization’s ability to compete effectively with peers and rivals that have failed to consider and prepare for multiple future scenarios. Foresight can assist organizations in coming up with more innovative offerings for their customers and clients, and anticipating their evolving desires.
6. Boosts employee satisfaction
Foresight draws on expertise and views within the organization, recognizing the value in its personnel. Employees respond positively to the opportunity to construct a common vision and to contribute to their organization’s future.
7. Promotes learning
The inquisitive and exploratory nature of Foresight directly contributes to learning lessons and developing new insights through the engagement of different disciplines and specialties. Some governments and companies make the findings of their Foresight studies freely available as a contribution to knowledge sharing.
8. Facilitates public participation
Foresight involves the sort of research that one can do at their computer, but it also requires engagement with others, in and ideally outside the organization. It provides an opportunity to involve a diversity of stakeholders in developing shared visions of what could come to pass. In doing so, Foresight can nurture community and societal ownership, as well as a collective sense of shared interest and forward-looking purpose.
9. Improves planning and strategizing
Foresight expands and reframes the range of alternative futures beyond the most expected ones. It gives organizations more information and insight with which to plan for the years ahead. It also generates options for experimentation with innovative approaches, and allows stress testing of possible strategies and policies.
10. Empowers people and organizations
Through Foresight, organizations embrace uncertainty, rather than attempt the impossibility of trying to control it. Foresight enhances an organization’s confidence, and strength. Fear of the unknown fades as plausible alternative futures come into view.
Adoption of Foresight
Despite the good that it can do for an organization, Foresight is used sparingly and inconsistently by governments, international agencies, academic institutions, and civil society organizations. Just 25% of the Fortune 500 practice Foresight through in-house efforts. I will explore the reasons for this in a follow-on blog in the next few days.
The ten benefits of Foresight are drawn from my new, pandemic-inspired book, Learning from Tomorrow: Using Strategic Foresight to Prepare for the Next Big Disruption (2021), available here.