Foresight vs. Planning Horizons, part 2

Last week I was looking at the distinction between your planning/action horizon and your foresight/thought horizon.  Riffing a bit now on the horizons diagrams (see Figure 1), we can perhaps play with different shapes to the cone of uncertainty to illustrate the different ranges of potential futures an organization might be facing.  It could also be an attempt to illustrate – and thus contrast – the perception of different types of uncertainty regarding the future.


Figure 1: Foresight vs. Planning Horizons, with the cone of uncertainty

To try this, we can have some fun applying something of a systems approach via the Cynefin framework.  The Cynefin framework see five domains or contexts in which individuals may find themselves: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and disorder.  Without getting very deep into the framework, we’ll just say that in simple contexts, as in simple systems, there is a right answer to be found and everyone agrees on what that answer is.  In complicated contexts or systems, such as a car, there might be multiple right answers to a problem and, with enough data and crunching (and the right expertise), we can figure that out.  In simple and complicated contexts, cause and effect have clear and obvious relationships to one another.  In complex and chaotic systems, however, cause and effect are not always clearly related and not always linearly related.  In complex contexts patterns emerge and while things can be explained after the fact, they can’t be predicted or identified before hand.  Chaotic contexts are – mercifully – short-lived, where turbulence reigns and cause and effect can’t be reliably established.  Sudden crises like natural disasters or violent encounters are good examples of chaotic contexts.

If we play with applying these four major Cynefin domains to the foresight vs. planning horizons diagrams, we might be able to illustrate the different possible foresight/thought horizons in terms of simple, complicated, and complex contexts.  We would leave chaotic out because, not only are chaotic contexts short (thanks to nature, some sort of pattern always forms out of that lack of order) but the prescription for decision making in truly chaotic contexts is immediate and decisive action, not planning and not analysis.

Given this, we could create the following three diagrams, each illustrating one of the first three contexts.


Figure 2: Horizons + Simple Context


Figure 3: Horizons + Complicated Context


Figure 4: Horizons + Complex Contexts

I feel like Figure 4 might have some additional tweaks, to better capture the unpredictable and emergent patterns that result.  Still, using this, we might be able to add a second level to the foresight vs. planning horizon discussion with groups.  We can expand on the discussion to consider which of the three potential contexts they think they as a group/organization are facing.  As visualizations, they might help groups consider the nature of the futures/uncertainty they are facing.

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