As futurists, it is our job to help clients to build the future. That may mean that we are helping them to identify potential risks, discover emerging opportunities or simply navigate the unfolding trends. (Though it’s never really that simple or mundane.)
This process continues into reframing, rethinking or strengthening present strategy, operations, models and innovation, or fostering completely new ideas. Foresight is only as useful as the actions it produces.
It’s also the case that every single client has what might be called an “official future.” This simply means that they have an idea – whether conscious or subconscious – about where they are headed as a group or organization. They have a worldview and collective culture that dictates where they are going, what they are doing and how they will get there.
This isn’t necessarily wrong, and is a critical part of having a healthy vision and mission as an organization. But in a world of incredible complexity and change, it can also be extremely dangerous.
Often, clients want to use foresight to confirm their strategy and direction, or maybe slightly tweak it. And it’s possible that – if an organization is very open to new ideas, change and continual learning – that foresight will serve this purpose.
If they have created a culture of future thinkers, they may be a future-fit and future-empowered organization that is continually upgrading their strategy and processes to be adaptive, resilient and transformative.
Warning: we often have a very skewed sense of how “open” we actually are. If you have deadlines, outcomes or the need to reach goals in a prescribed period of time, you are probably less future-fit than you think.
It’s exciting to encounter organizations that want to challenge the Industrial Age practices of short-term thinking and linear development – characteristics that are outdated in a world of fast-paced change and disruption. In this case, foresight questions and provokes the status quo, helping those leaders who are savvy and insightful to proactively map preferred futures and aspirational goals.
But, when organizations engage our firm hoping to hold tight to their “official” version of the future, we tell them they have two options: They can open themselves to challenging their worldview and culture, and ensure that they build maps of the future that are actually useful; or they can build a future based on the ideas and practices with which they are already most comfortable.
We’ll give you one guess which choice produces a biased and uninformed pathway that leaves you vulnerable to accelerating change and potential collapse. Alternatively, by breaking past those limiting, linear forecasts, organizations that embrace foresight find they are more adaptive, resilient and transformative, no matter what future emerges.