Category Archives: Foresight Methods

Developing a Culture of Foresight by Having Leading-Edge Thinkers Present to Your Organization (4 of 8 Ways)

If your company is in or near a city of any significant size, you have access to people who are willing to talk or conduct a “show and tell” about what they or their organization is doing.  I once had a prominent researcher from Intel give a presentation to my healthcare colleagues about what his company was doing to keep people mobile and independent through the application of sophisticated electronic sensors.  It dramatically reshaped my vision of where our industry is headed.  Disruptive?  Yup.  Transformative? That too.  A game-changer?  Could be.

Yes, I know in the age of webinars, blogging, YouTube, MeTube (I just made that up) and slide-sharing, it may seem outdated to have a real person and not an avatar present information, but it still works.  TED uses real people on a stage with a microphone.  Later they apply techno-wizardry.  But it all starts with a real human being standing in front of other real human beings.

You probably have a pool of resources you may not recognize as such.  They are your vendors.  If you happen to be in healthcare, ask your medical sales representative to talk to your staff about their products that are in R&D.  Ask your IT vendor to present on the future of electronic medical records or telehealth.

You may be able to tap into local or regional colleges or universities for professors or other scholars who may be delighted to talk about their area of expertise.  Most universities have speakers’ bureaus.

Almost everyone knows a lot about something.  Some of them take that knowledge and shove it into the future.  Find them.


Developing a Culture of Foresight by Creating Scenarios (3 of 8 Ways)

The nerdy definition of a scenario is a hypothetical sequences of events leading up to a specific future outcome.  I like to think of them as storyboards for the future.  They can be complex or simple, short or long.  They can be presented in written, verbal, or video form or even as a skit.

Scenarios have many purposes.  They can be used to think through the future of an entire industry, an organization or a single function.  Common to all of them are the identification of driving forces (such as demographics), stakeholders (such as hospitals), and trends (such as shorter lengths of stay).

Don’t neglect to make the effort fun, simple, and participatory.  It’s not only about the end result.  It’s also about the process.  The power of scenario building is how it gets people to immerse themselves in the future.  Working on scenarios leaves them no choice but to think broadly about the future.  Every group I’ve done this with has exceeded my expectations and probably their own as well.  They come up with marvelous, provocative ideas and important insights for their organizations.

It’s clear that once people have had the scenario-building experience, they have new places to go to in their minds.  They have a richer, more robust view of the future.  They also have a new mental habit – to think about alternative futures, not accepting that there’s some inevitable future out there.

Good scenarios are the result of your mind meeting in the middle.  You left-brainers can add some specific financial forecasts based on your spreadsheets.  Those tending to be right-brain wired may want to include some creative responses to social trends.  I once had a right-brainer taunt a left-brainer with the proclamation that “It’s better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong.”

In 2008, while a Board member of the Clark County Family YMCA, I enjoyed working with colleagues to help the Y’s leadership open themselves up to alternative futures via scenario development.  The scenarios were delivered by pretending to be television newscasters.  Different scenarios were reported on as news.  Everyone had a blast.  Another group of folks created a fictitious YMCA 2018 Annual Report.  It addressed political, economic, social and technological issues.  It was coherent, compelling and, by design, dystopian – a very dark future for the organization.  Needless to say, it caused quite a stir.  In other words, it worked.

If you think scenario planning is fluff, a luxury or pointless navel gazing, you would do well to know that the main reason Shell Oil Company survived the great oil crisis of 1973 was because of, you guessed it, scenario planning.  Regardless of what you think of Big Oil their corporate planning folks don’t do fluff.  So get your team together and craft some scenarios.  They can greatly contribute to you organization’s long-term success.  And there’s nothing fluffy about that.

Developing a Culture of Foresight by Joining the World Future Society (2 of 8 Ways)

A while back (OK, a long while back) I posted a blog about a way (1 of 8) to help others spend a few minutes regularly thinking about the future.  Basically, it’s sharing your horizon scanning “hits” with them, whether they be personal friends or workmates/colleagues.

This second method is simple – become a member of the World Future Society.  The WFS is a nonprofit organization founded in 1966.  It’s the best organization of its type for the person who has a general interest in the future.  It bills itself as a neutral clearinghouse for ideas, forecasts, and resources about the future.

I’ve been a member since 1971.  At that time I was majoring in Political Science at the University of Washington.  Vietnam, riots, hunger strikes and power to the people.  The days of rage.

I came home that summer to mooch off my parents.  I couldn’t find a summer job because of the inherent evil nature of capitalism.  Because I was too young to sit in a bar all day, I spent afternoons at the public library.  I discovered The Futurist, the magazine published by the WFS.  As a result of being exposed to studies of the future I began thinking, writing and studying a bit differently.  My grades improved.  A little.

You’re probably not worried about your grades.  But you may be worried, or at least concerned, about your ability to manage change, both personally and professionally.  I am.  That’s why I’m a member of the World Future Society.

So check it out.  If you don’t want to spend $79 I encourage you to sign up for their free email postings.  It’s great information and no gimmicks.

Developing a Culture of Foresight by Taking Five Minutes for the Future (1 of 8 Ways)

“We live with our gaze firmly fixed on a point about two seconds into the future . . . both the past and the future as mental categories are threatened by the tyranny of the moment.”
Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age, Thomas Hylland

One of the greatest challenges of my career has been to get people, often employees, to think a little more about the future for the benefit of the organization, as well as them personally.  The obstacle to this is simple – we are all too busy to do so.  It appears a luxury, not a necessity.  The immediacy of the present shoves out the importance of the future.  This is especially pronounced during tough economic times.

Five years ago I came up with an idea to counter this.  It’s called Five Minutes for the Future.  It’s based on the assumption that we can all take at least five minutes every few days to consider some aspect of the future that may relate to the organization we work in or our own personal lives.  When introducing this to our employees I asked them not to take offense to this – that I wasn’t implying that they don’t think about the future or plan ahead.  None of us would be successful if we neglected this aspect of our lives.

In the introductory email I sent to them I explained that they could anticipate periodically receiving brief summaries of new developments, trends or issues that may have implications important to them and/or the business.  And, of course, I encouraged their feedback.

Here are some I have distributed:

A device, in the prototype phase, that is portable and can indicate in five minutes whether or not a person is infected with a certain virus.
Notification of the First Annual Consumer Genetics Show held in 2009.
Legislation introduced in New York and New Jersey requiring RNs to attain bachelor’s degrees within 10 years of licensure.
A miniature digestible computer chip attached to a conventional medication that sends a signal to a device worn on the skin.  This band-aid-like device, in turn, wirelessly transmits information to doctors with readings about the patient’s vital signs.

My final comment in my introductory email was “Most of your are younger than I am.  You will be living and working with these developments long after I retire.  Even if you don’t find them intellectually intriguing you must keep up with them or you will be rendered obsolete.”  (For those of you who don’t know me, yes, I’m in the healthcare field).

So, if you are even somewhat interested in developing a culture of foresight in your organization or department try Five Minutes for the Future.  It works.

I will describe seven additional ways to develop a culture of foresight in future posts.  They are all practical and effective.

Mapping the (Your) Future

If you’re like me, it’s a lot more enjoyable looking at a map when you don’t need it.  I think it’s because you can take your time and let it stir your imagination.  That’s what I suggest you first do with Trends & Technology Timeline 2010+.  (Note: You likely will have to adjust the magnification on your screen).  Then, with some familiarity, you may want to create your own map.

The first thing you will notice is that the trend map looks like that of a subway system.  This is an impressive and fairly new way to visualize information.  I like it.  But don’t let it deceive you.  There is no certainty to the routes and the terrain.  The map does not illustrate the future, rather it lays out alternative or possible futures.

Beyond just using it to noodle around how can this guide to alternative futures be approached?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Attentively pursue specific paths (financial services, home and family, work and business, etc.)
  • Zoom out and ask yourself if the time zones make sense
  • Identify which trends and developments are (or may) affect your own life or your organization
  • Plan a time to sit down with your team and begin creating your own trend map as you now have a useful template to work with

I will close with this observation:  Many from Gen Y don’t know how to use a map nor can they apply the concept of north, south, east and west.  Soon you will be able to add the maps in your glove box to your personal museum of slide rules and wrist watches.  Come to think of it, isn’t “glove box” a cute term?