Building a Foresight Program
Five building blocks and how to approach them step-by-step
July 25, 2018, Ville Vanhala
This article is based on content presented at the Strategic Foresight Summit 2018, organized earlier this year by Futures Platform.
Markko Vaarnas, co-founder and chairman of the board of Futures Platform and the managing partner of the accelerator company Takeoff Partners, is specialized in internationalizing data-driven B2B software and service companies. “It’s all about the future anyhow, so I have been getting deeper in to future foresight,” Vaarnas tells.
Foresight is becoming a more disciplined activity in organizations as changes are happening on a faster pace and with a broader and deeper impact than ever before. “To ensure continued growth and success, organizations need to adapt to the future or at best, be a part of shaping it,” Vaarnas says.
“To really have an impact foresight should be treated as a systematically managed program and not just firefighting. Building foresight capability takes time and effort,” he says. You might look at it as a step-by-step model or start by focusing on one building block at a time and thus build the foundation of a systematic foresight program.
Vaarnas presents five building blocks to start aligning your organization with the future:
1. Learn about the key trends impacting your organization
The fundamental first step is acquiring a view of your organization and the drivers affecting it in the future. The world contains an unimaginably vast amount of information. The trends and phenomena are the same for everyone, but they have different influences on different organizations. The challenge lies in filtering through it and making sense of it from your organization’s point of view.
It’s all about learning and increased awareness at this point, understanding the drivers by following trend reports, news feed, industry publications and by talking to industry experts or foresight experts.
2. Engage your team to create a shared view of the future and possible scenarios therein
The future-orientation of an organization starts in the top management but becomes the DNA by embedding the future-orientation in to people’s everyday work and decision-making.
Use your team to deepen the understanding and create a shared view of how the future is shaping the organization. Encourage a collaborative approach with the key people from the organization and co-create scenarios together. Generally, the deliverables are the more valuable, the more people are involved in creating them.
Visualize your future – create an illustration, such as a foresight radar or a road map, to ease communication and bring people together.
3. Scan the horizon continuously to detect early warnings and emerging opportunities
“By identifying and tracking early warnings and emerging opportunities, your organization can turn them into concrete business opportunities,” Vaarnas says. Scan the horizon continuously to identify new trends and on the other hand to keep track of already detected trends. This can be done by creating an alert system to identify and track trends on the foresight radar. The signals are analyzed and turned into assessments of alternative future outcomes.
4. Conduct deep dives into future topics to ensure your plans and decisions are based on future awareness
Whenever you have a strategic planning round, make sure the strategic planning is supported by strategic foresight. Make sure the decisions are validated against the future foresight, whether it be innovating new offerings, investment decisions or risk management.
Future-oriented deep dives into specific topics affect decision-making the most. Deep dive analyses are typically used as input to strategy, to support investment decisions or risk analysis. Deep dives provide material for ideas that might end up becoming new products or services and can help in scenario planning.
5. Promote your vision of the future for internal awareness and industry thought leadership
Industry leaders grasp this better than an average company. A company should be active in promoting their shared vision, as having educated views of the future developments puts the organization in a natural though leader’s position. There is value in an organization being an active shaper of the future instead of following others.
Increasing internal awareness about the developments in the surrounding world that will have an impact on the organization is useful in adding value to the different functions of the organization. For example, sales and marketing can conduct more educated and value-adding discussions with customers and promote thought-leadership.