Strategic Foresight for Planning Amid Uncertainty

What is strategic foresight?

It is a disciplined approach to exploring alternate futures. The approach helps organizations identify growth opportunities and increases organizational resilience. And, it is best suited to longer time horizons when there are high levels of uncertainty.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most foresight exercises focused on a five- to 10-year time horizon; uncertainty was sufficiently high to necessitate alternative approaches to strategic planning. The COVID-19 pandemic has created high levels of uncertainty within much shorter time horizons — under three years. It has also presented opportunities for innovation and planning teams to benefit from foresight methods and tools.

Principles that provide a starting point to plan amid uncertainty

Here are five principles of strategic foresight that can provide leaders with a starting point to plan amidst uncertainty.

The future is fundamentally unknowable.

The purpose of strategic foresight is to change decision-makers mental models and perspectives as they plan for their organizations’ possible futures. The purpose is not to predict the future. With a broadened perspective, business leaders can clarify critical uncertainties, ask the right questions, identify new opportunities for growth, create appropriate contingency plans to manage risk, and develop an organizational learning plan to monitor how critical drivers of change are evolving.

It’s possible to identify and analyze forces shaping the future 

Coronavirus has impacted technology development and adoption, market dynamics, and consumer behavior. Integrate an understanding of technology, market, and consumer trends. In doing so, you have a more comprehensive view of the forces shaping the future. Some pre-existing trends (like increasing workplace flexibility and digital transformation) have accelerated, while others have slowed or even reversed.

Organizations are more likely to succeed when they recognize shifting trends and align innovation efforts with a post-COVID-19 reality.

Regarding forces shaping the future, consider them differently, based on their level of certainty and impact on your organization.

Long lists of signals and trends are the starting point. You and your team must dedicate time to making sense of what these changes mean. Not all forces shaping the future are created equal. A critical part of any foresight process is analyzing uncertainty and the potential impact of various forces.

Companies are usually adept at incorporating high-certainty trends into planning efforts. Strategic foresight provides a structured process for extracting insights from high-uncertainty forces-a responsibility that has become increasingly important amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expand your understanding of possible futures to help you identify emerging opportunities and increase organizational resilience.

Foresight practitioners never try to predict the futureInstead, they envision multiple futures. These futures are rooted in observable signals and trends from today. And they use critical uncertainties to create multiple plausible — yet provocative — visions of the future. When teams creatively envision a plausible future, they can recognize emerging white spaces. They are also able to strategically position their organization through partnerships or acquisition, or create contingency plans that increase resilience.

Actively monitor signals to help you move forward with agility and speed. 

Organizations need a structured process to identify signals of change and monitor the evolution of critical uncertainties. When they have such a process, the organization can react quickly to seize opportunities or recognize emerging threats. With many signals and trends evolving simultaneously, foresight helps leaders identify and prioritize the most important signals to track.

Contact us about your strategic foresight needs.

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