Why Do We Need Foresight and Change Capabilities?

All entities move and nothing remains still

– Heraclitus

November 22, 2018, Jari Koskinen

In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, organisations can't afford to be complacent and avoid changes if they want to stay ahead of the curve. However, they shouldn't make abrupt decisions or aimlessly follow each and every change either. In this piece, Jari Koskinen explains why organisations need to have foresight and change capabilities in the decision-making process.

Already Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher understood the continuous nature of change. In the contemporary world, perpetual change penetrates our daily lives. The times are now remarkably different as, say, only a few decades ago. Many seem to understand that we live amidst accelerating change as well as increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This notion equals the change phenomenon known as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous).

The question is how we should alter our actions to better suit the ongoing changes? In order to formulate an answer, another change phenomenon requires attention, further increasing the difficulty of the task. Here, we've decided to call this phenomenon MONUMENT.

Our everyday experience reveals that ever so often organisations seem to become complex systemic entities, best described as rigid and slow-moving monuments. Such monuments face the risk of paralysis for a multitude of reasons, including e.g. quality and information systems, standards, regulations, hierarchies, bureaucracy, control, assessment, reporting, treaties, strict budgeting, micro-optimisation, rigid and outdated means of operation, industry practices, occupational cultures, and legislation. In short, the organisation is gridlocked. Such an entity can surely develop through minute improvements here and there, but not thoroughly, through proactive, quick, and agile identification and assessment of changes in the operational environment.

Within a monument, activities become rigid and rely on hierarchies and silos, and processes are long. Management and the desire for control often seem to become the focus of all operations, not so many clients, consumers, end-users, or creative development work. Decision-makers also easily become somewhat blinded by past successes. What used to work brilliantly, often works no more.

VUCA and MONUMENT form a nearly impossible mountain to climb. Imagine a situation where constantly accelerating changes and increasing complexity engulfs monumental organisations that lack foresight and change capabilities. Perhaps the two best examples of organisations losing their market position are Kodak and Nokia.

Amidst accelerating changes, foresight and change capabilities become keys to success. In order to achieve the highest level of foresight capability, all planning, operation, and decision-making require a systemic and systematic link to foresight activities. Plans and decisions need to be reflected upon in relation to changes in the operational environment.

Organisations with high foresight capabilities do not need to make abrupt decisions or aimlessly follow each and every change in the weather. As long as continuous foresight has been used to create shared understanding, the sense of security within the organisation is strengthened. Changes have been processed, discussed, and understood by all stakeholders and whenever new changes occur, they are processed proactively through dialogue with everyone in the organisation. The most essential thing is to be able to see options and alternatives in all situations.

Change capability, on the other hand, is born out of the ability to take identified and analysed changes into account in a proactive manner.

Foresight and change capability requires

  • Continuous foresight, development of shared understanding (report-based, sporadic foresight activities no longer suffice)
  • Understanding complexity and ambiguity; things are more often both-and instead of either-or
  • Acceptance of continuous change and of things always being in progress
  • Speed, flexibility, and agility
  • Share co-creation of a preferred future, coupled with foresight
  • Competency-based, self-organising work (where at all possible)
  • Multilateral dialogue, continuous co-creation over silos and boundaries
  • Participation of all people (management, employees, customers, end-users, and partners)
  • Openness and transparency
  • An understanding of organisations as constantly evolving organisms instead of mechanic machines
  • Continuous, courageous experiments as well as creative leaps of faith as parts of development work
  • Meaningful work, together and in cooperation
  • Ethically and ecologically sustainable development.

This list hints at what is needed but does not give concrete guidelines or procedures. Today, make good use of virtual spaces that allow everybody to make sense of all things in progress. Such spaces are primarily used in emergencies, but I dare anticipate that such co-creation spaces are increasingly becoming mainstream. Foresight and change capabilities demand that organisations acknowledge everything that is going on and act with flexibility and agility. The most essential competencies of the future are learning how to learn, constant priorisation, and situation-awareness in co-creation.

Organisations with high foresight capabilities do not need to make abrupt decisions or aimlessly follow each and every change in the weather. As long as continuous foresight has been used to create shared understanding, the sense of security within the organisation is strengthened.

In the current age, people seem to greatly desire meaningful work that is shared with others. Thus it is of great importance to aim to understand changes together. At their most radical adaptation, foresight and change capabilities mean replacing processes with people. This would allow emergent issues to be met sensitively, as a group. This requires learning to be flexible and agile in co-creation activities, whilst keeping in mind that the focus should be on the people. This means that the most essential investments are placed on people, on their wellbeing, meaningful (co-)operation, and dynamic competence development. This should also lead to the understanding that haste is the greatest threat for being on time.

Jari Koskinen is a change facilitator and co-creation expert. He has vast experience in projects combining foresight and co-creation. Foresight and change capabilities form a theme that has in recent years been developed by Jari Koskinen and Jari Kaivo-oja, research director at Finland Futures Research Centre. Read more about his work here.

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