FAQ: Almost Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Foresight

faq foresight Jun 30, 2023

The future is uncertain, but that doesn't mean we can't prepare for it. Foresight is a powerful tool that can help executives and organizations navigate change and uncertainty.

In this FAQ post, I'll answer some of the most common questions about foresight. I'll cover topics such as what foresight is, why it's important, and how to practice it. I'll also provide links to resources where you can learn more about foresight.

So whether you're an (aspiring) executive, or just someone who's curious about the future, read on to learn more about foresight and how it can help you prepare for what's to come.



What is foresight?

Foresight is the practice of using foresight methods to help organizations anticipate future trends and challenges. It is a systematic approach to understanding the future and using that understanding to make better decisions today.


What are the benefits of foresight? 

  • Increased strategic agility: By anticipating future trends and challenges, organizations can be more agile in their strategic planning. This allows them to adapt to change more quickly and effectively.
  • Improved decision-making: By better understanding the future, organizations can make better decisions about the present. This can increase profits, reduce costs, and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Enhanced innovation: By identifying new opportunities and challenges, organizations can be more innovative in product development and marketing strategies. This can help them to stay ahead of the competition.
  • Increased employee engagement: Employees who are involved in the foresight process feel more connected to the organization and its future. This can lead to increased motivation and productivity.


When must organizations engage in foresight?

  • Identify new opportunities: When organizations want to identify new markets, products, and services that they can develop.
  • Reduce risk: When organizations want to anticipate future challenges to mitigate those risks.
  • Improve decision-making: When organizations make high stake decisions about investment, innovation, and strategy.

What are the different methods for foresight?

 There are several different methods for forecasting the future. Some of the most common methods include:
  • Trend analysis: This involves identifying trends and projecting them into the future. It's paired with backcasting: This involves starting with a desired future state and then working backward to identify the steps needed to achieve that state. This method is best for low-uncertainty environments.
  • Scenario planning: This involves developing several scenarios for the future and then assessing the implications of each scenario. It is paired with an innovation pipeline to test for new solutions fitting emerging behaviors and needs. This method is best in medium uncertain environments.
  • Adaptive Strategic Pathways: This involves developing several substitute strategies optimized for different scenarios. It is paired with monitoring key indicators that tell you when to switch between strategies. This method is best in high-uncertainty environments.
The best forecasting method will vary depending on the specific situation. However, all of these methods can help provide insights into the future and help us to prepare for it.
I have been helping organizations develop scenario planning and adaptive strategic pathways since 2007.

How long does foresight take?

Foresight can take a variety of lengths of time, depending on the scope of the project, the amount of research required, and the level of uncertainty in the organizational environment.
Here are some factors that can affect the length of time it takes to conduct foresight:
  • The scope of the project: If the project is focused on a specific issue or trend, it will likely take less time than a project trying to understand a broader range of possibilities.
  • The amount of research required: If the project requires a lot of research, such as gathering data or interviewing experts, it will likely take longer.
  • The level of uncertainty in the organizational environment: when the environment is stable and simple, once every couple of years will suffice. But when the environment is dynamic and complex, foresight is ongoing.


Can you do foresight on your own?

The future is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. This means that we cannot know what will happen and that our knowledge of the future is always incomplete and provisional. However, we can prepare for possible futures together by constructing in-depth knowledge with many unique perspectives.
When you do foresight alone, you must assume different roles and look for different sources to create the same effect.

Who should participate in foresight?

Ideally, foresight is delegated to several people in the organization. The foresight team must include colleagues from every organizational level who identify as (a combination of):
  • Non-conformists (people who challenge assumptions)
  • Critics (people who introduce inconvenient truths)
  • Completers (people who ensure that a task is done well)
  • Creators (people who think of new ideas)
  • Leaders (people who like to shape the organization)
  • Coordinators (people who ensure that foresight keeps momentum)
  • Relationship builders (people who can get the resources and stakeholders in)
  • Generalists (people with experience outside the industry and/or in other parts of the world who bring in alternate perspectives)
  • Specialists (people who can open doors to new insights through knowledge)
  • Communicators (people who can and like to translate ideas to multiple easy-to-understand formats)

What resources do you need for foresight?

  • You'll need a team with the mandate and time allocation to work on foresight.
  • The team needs:
    • Access to important strategy documents and data on the organization's strengths and weaknesses.
    • A tool to collect, tag, and annotate horizon scanning data like Evernote
    • Teams or Zoom with apps to brainstorm asynchronously, like Miro or Lucid.
    • A playbook to guide their activities. Click here for Stanford's example.
    • A dedicated part of the Intranet to showcase their work and to survey and interact with the rest of the organization.



Is there a way to evaluate future scenarios? When do you know they are 'good'?

You can only check the process, not the outcome, because the future hasn't happened yet.
To check the process, you evaluate the following aspects:
  • Was the trend analysis checked for blind spots, biases, and hidden assumptions? (Horizon scanning must include inconvenient truths, unlikely information, and ambiguous emerging information)
  • Were the scenarios built on integrated information? (They must contain as much of the trend information as possible)
  • Are the scenarios populated with stakeholders? (They must show how stakeholders change over time)
  • Do the scenarios cover growth scenarios (extrapolation of the present), disciplinary scenarios (a limited number of norms and values that direct developments), and transformative scenarios (fundamental change in society)?
  • Are the scenarios mutually exclusive? (They cannot happen at the same time)
  • Are the scenarios dynamic? (They must contain feedback loops between developments)
  • Are the scenarios on the same time horizon? (They must show change over time in three horizons, the near, mid-term, and long-term future)
  • Is there a likelihood estimate for each scenario? (They must indicate likelihood, even if it's a subjective one)

How do you become a futurist?

You can do all kinds of courses and programs, ranging from a two-day masterclass to a full Ph.D.
( I have a Ph.D. in futures studies on the role of expertise in (not) seeing weak signals, the early signs of disruption.)

What are the different types of professional futurists?

Professional futurists can be categorized in methodological types:
  • Critical futurists who explore, deconstruct, and critique the future scenarios of others as a methodology of understanding.
  • Predictive futurists who forecast probable futures, events, and processes that they expect are likely to occur statistically, both due to anticipated personal and social choices and for autonomous processes that appear independent of human choice.
  • Epistemological futurists who investigate the epistemology (how we know what we know) of the future and seek to improve the paradigms of foresight scholarship and practice.
I am an epistemological futurist: I don't predict but help executives navigate uncertainty based on how we learn and make sense of the unknown.

What is a good book to read to learn about foresight?

Thinking about the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight by Peter C. Bishop
  • This book is a practical guide to foresight. It provides step-by-step instructions on conducting a foresight project, from identifying the problem to developing and implementing a solution.
  • Bishop argues that foresight is not just about predicting the future but about creating it. He provides several tools and techniques that can be used to imagine and create the future that we want.
Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner.
  • This book is a fascinating look at forecasting and how some people can consistently outperform experts.
  • Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner argue that there are several things you can do to improve forecasting skills, including thinking probabilistically, being open to feedback, and avoiding cognitive biases.
  • This book is about improving your decision-making and leadership skills by paying attention to the information others overlook or ignore.
  • Bazerman argues that we often miss important details, opportunities, and risks because of our cognitive biases, blind spots, and habits. He provides examples from various domains, such as business, politics, sports, and magic, to illustrate how noticing can make a difference. He also offers practical advice on how to overcome the barriers to noticing and developing a more alert and curious mindset.

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