Our global economy is in crisis mode, struggling to cope with increased population, the shifts from the West to the East, rising inequality and climate change. The global problems we face today are complex, interconnected and systemic, leading to great uncertainty and a need for resilience. Potential answers are not trivial and some of these problems can only be managed, not solved. Organisations need to find new business models in order to adapt quickly and effectively. Today’s leaders need to anticipate, to think ahead. Most leaders need help to envisage major changes and how they might play out.
In today’s constantly changing, ever more connected, digitally disrupted, politically challenging and uncertain world, is it a good idea to make a single strategic plan and stick to it regardless? How do you perform due diligence on the future of your organisation or business? How do you ensure that your business grows and thrives when you know that future is uncertain at best?
The film Back to the Future II is a great example of how you just can’t predict the future. 26 years later we can see the film got many things right, like video calls and big flat screen television, wearable tech, smart glasses, there were also many things it got wrong. Most importantly, it missed something huge; our ubiquitous smartphones... but then 1989 was the year Tim Berners-Lee invented the worldwide web, so the film went out before our current, always connected world emerged.
The point is that no one can accurately predict the future. But you can use strategic foresight, the practice of anticipatory thinking, to get close enough to ensure that your organisation is amply agile and resilient to respond, adapt and succeed.
Strategic foresight helps you imagine a range of possible futures and uses structured frameworks to minimise what you might miss.
These 5 steps will help develop your “foresight muscles”:
1) Search out emerging trends and keep your eyes open for new things. Which of them might disrupt your business? How might different trends combine and what would that mean to you? What advantages could you develop? What risks might need to be mitigated? This must be an ongoing activity.
2) Develop a range of possible, probable futures based on how these trends may unfold. This is never a direct extrapolation from the past. That only wastes your time. Exercise your “foresight muscles” and think out of the box. Add a wild card future – caused by a highly improbable event. The Fukushima disaster happened not because they hadn’t done any disaster planning, but because they hadn’t thought through the effect of three catastrophes happening at the same time. That was just considered too unlikely, so no plans were made. Wild cards help you exercise for really ‘far out’ events.
3) Identify how you would know that one of the futures you imagined was actually emerging (“early indicators”). Work backwards from the futures you’ve developed to see how it would happen and therefore what you need to watch out for, in the case of each of the futures.
4) Each of the futures you developed needs a plan. If this future emerged, what would you do to take the best advantage of the situation? What would you need to stop doing? What risks would you need to mitigate? How can you innovate?
5) In step 3 you identified early indicators, now you need to actively monitor for these signs that a particular future is unfolding. When you notice this, you can execute the appropriate plan for that future. This will give the best opportunity to thrive and endure.
Keeping an eye on not just how the future unfolds in the present, but also on how trends could emerge will enable robust decision making for your organisation and will help you succeed and flourish in the future. Exercising your foresight muscles and thinking through what could happen in several circumstances will enable you to respond more quickly and easily even if you encounter one that is unforeseen. Your resilience and agility are improved because you have thought about several futures and have, therefore, several plans you can build upon. You have a Plan A, B and C that you have already learned from. You don’t have to start from scratch. And because you are keeping an eye on emerging trends, you will be aware of the need to act sooner rather than later. This is the reason you conduct due diligence on the future.
Join us in London on 17th March as we learn from the future to explore what a preferred future for the RSA might look like in the 21st century. This event will be a great opportunity to experience using strategic foresight to explore potential futures, and to work with other Fellows to develop our RSA to be the best it can be. You can sign up here.
Patricia Lustig is an internationally recognised practitioner in strategic foresight and strategy development, future thinking and innovation. She has held senior positions at major blue-chip companies such as BP, Motorola and Logica and is a Fellow of the RSA. Patricia is the author of a number of respected books and is the founder of international business consultancy LASA Development. She is currently setting up the Unlocking Foresight Know How C.I.C. Patricia’s most recent book, Strategic Foresight: Learning from the Future is published by Triarchy Press.