5 Steps to Establishing Foresight in Your Organization

It’s 2016 now and despite the growing research against making huge new year resolutions, it’s still a perfect time to take stock, make plans, and make changes. With that in mind, we’d like to offer some suggestions on how your organization could work on establishing foresight as a process and function within your organization. In reviewing these suggestions, keep in mind the working definition of foresight that we use with clients: insight into how and why the future could be different from today.

And for additional clarity, we’re mentally picturing small and mid-size organizations, though the suggestions are certainly applicable to larger organizations as well.

Step 1: Assessing
Your first step is to take stock of what your organization is looking at and what it sees as important. Where are the pain points, what are the issues it’s worried about, and perhaps most importantly, what are the mental models leaders use to perceive the world? Based on the results, think about where it will be valuable (and received as such) to reinforce with foresight, and where are there obvious gaps and blind spots into which a foresight light needs to be shined.

Step 2: Scanning
Building partly on the results from assessing, start exposing the organization to lots and lots of “stuff.” Relying on one individual (you, perhaps) or drawing upon a small team, start scanning the external environment for signals of emerging change. Start by combining your assessment results with a simple framework like STEEP (social, technological, economic, environmental, and political) to look across the Web and other media sources for signs of future technologies, potential public policy issues, or new concepts and shifts in values. This step is typically conducted as “desktop research” but it can also involve expert speakers brought in for talks, conferences, and visits to places like university research labs and talks with innovative companies. Remember to maintain a low barrier to entry here; you are absolutely acting like a giant informational vacuum.

Step 3: Exploring
Now that you’ve got some provocative and potentially insightful information flowing in, you (and your coworkers) can start exploring these signals of change. If time and bandwidth are in extremely short supply, then get together once a month or so and compare notes; share your scanning “hits” and talk about implications and even look for interconnections. If you do have a bit of bandwidth for this, then organize a short workshop to systematically work through the scanning results. This can be as simple as a half day with a small team or as big as a multi-month scenario forecasting process that uses the scanning content to help forecast alternative futures.

Step 4: Disseminating
Never underestimate the importance of getting the word out. Assume that everyone else in the organization is as over committed and attention-burdened as you. Get information on what you (and your team) are doing in front of folks on a regular basis and be as creative and persistent as is practicable in inserting the outputs of your efforts into organizational news flows and discussions. Offer to brief other units on the work and always invite others to participate. Don’t forget that you might need to do a little extra in explicating/demonstrating the value of the material for other folks; as odd as this might sound, the value of foresight is not always self-evident to folks. If it happens that your organization as some real time/resources to put behind your foresight efforts, then engaging others through more interactive and experiential methods could also be a very powerful way of disseminating the work.

Step 5: Integrating
Key to institutionalizing foresight in your organization will be linking it to existing decision making processes in the organization. Planning is an obvious first choice, but don’t overlook marketing, innovation and development, and even finance. Foresight is meant to inform decision making, and to do so it needs to be part of those conversations. Over time you will likely be able to better tailor your foresight outputs to be ideal inputs to these existing processes. Finally, establish an annual calendar for all of these steps. Make it a defined process with concrete dates and locations for others to hook onto.

These are some very simple steps for creating foresight and for establishing foresight as a function within your organization. We hope that it will help get you going as we start 2016. If you’re interested in building out some of the above suggestions, then we’d be more than happy help you design and initiate these steps. Contact us for more information on how we can help.

An upcoming post will have some recommendations on personal and daily habits for foresight (taken from my upcoming book).

Happy New Year!

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