When Foresight Interferes with a Leader’s Prerogatives

Over the years I’ve heard a number of refusals for doing formal foresight work in organizations. As one might expect, these run the gamut from financial issues (“we don’t have a budget for it”) to simple skepticism (“yeah, but how real is this stuff”). I’m in the process of collecting these refusals from colleagues around the world, and as I was reflecting on some of these, another, less obvious reason people refuse to do foresight work occurred to me.

This reason doesn’t get expressed to you (the consultant) in polite conversation, but may in fact be operating in the background, working against your efforts to get a real foresight project started. In some respects, it relates to the refusal to engage in big strategic planning you will sometimes encounter with organizations. This reason is that the leader of the organization is already quite locked into their expectations for the future or their vision of what they are trying to do. In this instance, having a formal foresight project, particularly one that involves the participation of a wider set of the leadership, invites the possibility that the organization will not just test the leader’s assumptions, but may also map out a competing forecast/strategy for the future.

I don’t have hard data on this, but it has been my impression that I have come across this more than a couple of times in my career. Again, this is not likely to be a reason they explain to you, but it may be working in the background. When discussing the possibility of a foresight project with individuals, try listening for certain phrases that might indicate you are encountering this issue: “we’ve already got a pretty good handle on the future,” or “we’ve got a good strategy in place that we want to execute.” My experience also says that the individual is likely to be quite polite and positive through the discussion, just unwilling to really discuss the benefits of the project or to have a meaningful conversation about their concerns or objections to it.

There are a number of reasons people refuse to do foresight work (which I will write about later), but some of the most important ones have nothing to do with the efficacy of formal futures research and everything to do with human behavior and internal organizational politics.

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