February 4, 2021

Strategic Foresight - Back to the future?

Joao

Imagine it’s 2031. Insect based food is everywhere, from burgers to pasta or protein bars. 10% of hospital surgeries are fully automated, using 3D printed organs, tissues and joints. 


The government has rolled out its first fleet of delivery drones in the national mail service and the courts ruled in favour of a job applicant in a dispute of an AI biased judgment.


Now bring yourself back to the present. Would your organisation thrive in a future like this? Are there opportunities to create new products and services? What steps would you take to make it happen? 


These are some of the questions Strategic Foresight can help us answer. 


But before diving into the nitty-gritty of Strategic Foresight, let’s understand why it is so important for organizations to take the future seriously today. 


Unprecedented times of change


The progress in technology, science and widespread globalization have produced immense value over the past 50 years. 


The world population doubled, meat production increased four-fold, energy consumption more than tripled and +1 billion people were lifted out of poverty.


60% of the world is already connected to the internet and 2.7 billion own a smartphone with the same processing power that Nasa had when it took a man to the moon in 1969.


We undoubtedly live in the best period in humankind’s history. And the rate of change shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, It is actually accelerating.


It took us 62 years for 50 million people to own a car.

It took us 12 years for 50 million people to own a smartphone.

It took us 19 days for 50 million people to download Pokemon Go.


This means that the upcoming years will bring more change, but also more unpredictability and uncertainty. 


This rate of change has been pressuring companies to adapt, innovate and reinvent themselves as never before. Few have been able to do so successfully.


Innosight estimates that by 2027 the average tenure of a company on the S&P 500 will shrink to 12 years, while in 1964 was 33 years and in 2016, 24 years.


The world is changing fast and traditional ways of doing business are too slow. Businesses need better tools to face the challenges and ripe the benefits of the exponential age.


What is Strategic Foresight?


Strategic Foresight is a discipline that helps us understand how issues unfolding today can affect our organisations tomorrow. 


It uses evidence from the present like events and trends to imagine possible futures.

 

By studying these “images of the future”, organisations can plan and implement strategies to win in a variety of uncertain scenarios. 


Strategic foresight is not about making good predictions about the future, it is about articulating and preparing for different futures that are all possible and plausible.


Strategic Foresight enables organizations to…


  • Anticipate long term changes and discontinuities
  • Identify opportunities and threats for growth
  • Make strategic decisions beforehand 
  • Explore different trends, ideas, business models
  • Understand emergent patterns and key drivers of change
  • Build collective intelligence in a structured and systematic way
  • Increase organizational agility, responsiveness and resilience
  • Develop future proof strategies and tactics


Strategic Foresight was initially developed at the US Department of Defense, but it was Shell Oil Company who pioneered its application in a business context, enabling them to anticipate and successfully deal with the oil crisis during the 70s, moving Shell from seventh to third oil company in the world at that time.


Since then, Strategic Foresight has expanded into the corporate and governmental strategy cultures. Leading global companies such as BNP Paribas or Vinci established dedicated foresight teams to actively follow social and technological trends, test innovative products and manage relationships with key innovation players. 


After years of ongoing practice, the European Commission has recently strengthened foresight’s role as a key tool in the policy making process, by appointing Maros Šefčovič as Vice President of Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight.


How is foresight done?


There is not a single framework on how strategic foresight is done. Instead, there are multiple tools we can use to think critically about the future. 


Among the most frequently used methods there is:

  • Scenario Planning
  • Trend Analysis
  • Environmental Scanning
  • Workshops
  • Weak Signal Detection


The good news is that you don’t need a full-blown future lab to explore the future - try our business design course and start exploring what the future will look like. 


Get free access to the business design course here.



We hope this article has proven useful to you. We would love to hear your thoughts and comments. 


Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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