Foresight Orientation is the first Key Success Factor of a great Foresight Program.

Foresight Orientation as a Key Success Factor

Key Success Factors of a Foresight Program

November 18, 2018, Bruno Jacobsen, Irmeli Hirvensalo

A good foresight program doesn't pop out of nowhere. Organizations that wish to understand the future and prepare for it need a good program in place.

Foresight Orientation as a Key Success Factor


This article is based on our latest eBook. Get your FREE copy today and get ready for the future. If you're looking for a tool to facilitate the process, take a look at our Foresight Platform and check out the free trial.


Where does a good foresight program come from?

In our Foresight Development Framework, we have identified 5 success factors. An organization that wishes to propel its foresight capabilities to the next level should focus on these.

The 5 key success factors are foresight orientation, foresight process, foresight deliverables, foresight tools, and foresight resources.

This article is all about the first: foresight orientation.


Key Success Factor 1 (KSF1): Foresight Orientation

The organizations that have the most to gain from a systematic foresight program are those that typically need to plan for the very long term. This includes many different types of organizations. From the public and private sectors to NGOs, industry associations, and other special interest groups. Foresight orientation starts from the leader and focuses the lens on the far future.


No matter whether it's an individual or an organization, private or public, it's always a good idea to put effort into understanding how different from today the future might look. And, more importantly, how the changes will impact our operating environment and success.


Future orientation starts from the leadership and their example.

When management sees the value in spending time on what the alternative futures may look like, people notice. That behaviour trickles down the ranks and gradually shifts an organization's culture towards future-orientation. This is much more preferable to the alternative. That is, making decisions based on only the present or, worse yet, the past. Many organizations still make this mistake.


But if the leadership wants to face the opportunities and threats the future brings fully prepared, and create an environment of future-orientation, how do they go about it?


Well, the scale and scope of the program should match the size and industry they are in.


We mentioned that organizations that most benefit from a program are those that need to plan on a long-term scale. Cities, councils, public agencies, large companies, NGOs, etc., all fit the bill.


Getting a foresight program rolling brings up basic questions about it: Whom does the activity serve? What information will the target groups need? What's the timeframe of the deliverables produced?


How far into the future the deliverables will look is also important. In foresight programs, the radar looks at least 2-3 years ahead, and usually much more. The time horizon can even span several decades, especially in sectors where decisions will have consequences far into the future (as is the case with many investment decisions). You can see this in, for instance, the development of pharmaceutical drugs, power plants, the construction sector, and urban planning.


And whom does it serve?


Some of the most typical user groups of foresight include the following.

  • A variety of public sector organizations (though the exact organizational functions making use of foresight vary);
  • Various stakeholders within private companies (functions, roles, and activities). Namely:
  1. Strategic planning
  2. Market intelligence
  3. Innovation labs and CTO-type of roles
  4. Risk management
  5. Board professionals
  6. Sales and marketing (this is especially the case when the company wants to engage its customers in value-adding conversations, bring them along in co-creation, and promote its own thought-leadership.
  7. Human resources
  • NGOs, industry associations, and other special interests groups.


Once a foresight program is up and running, it would be a waste not to expand its reach. Indeed, almost all areas of a business benefit from foresight orientation. Keeping the practice isolated within functions not only deprives parts of the organization of its benefits, but also increases inefficiency and redundancy across the company. This is especially the case when several different functions have their own processes of information discovery, gathering, and storing in isolation.


This article is based on our latest eBook. Get your FREE copy today and get ready for the future. If you're looking for a tool to facilitate the process, take a look at our Foresight Platform and check out the free trial.


Moving forward from a traditional intelligence program

The great thing is that implementing a foresight program isn't that costly in the short term. As we mentioned, many organizations already have some sort of market intelligence units in place. The same goes for public organizations, though it often takes form in economic forecasting units. In fact, often these programs already serve the needs of several groups, and deliver "sufficiently" on average. But these are often rear-view mirror results. Forecasts based on past trends, often missing bigger current and future trends, don't give the full picture.


That's why it's common to see companies and countries that hadn't been doing that well, suddenly starting to outperform. And those that had experienced outstanding growth, beginning to fall behind.


So the logical step is to begin combining the rear-view mirror with proper foresight practices. Though this sounds simple enough, it actually requires a new approach. Those in charge of market intelligence, or whatever function they find themselves in, need now to start behaving as "futurists."


This means taking on new research methods, forming new interpretations of possible futures, and applying their strategic judgment to the analysis.


This isn't possible without debating the probabilities of certain events, their implications, and the strategic choices facing the company. For that reason, this work often involves groups of people (think war game simulations, scenarios, workshops).


Senior Management and Foresight Orientation

We have seen whom a foresight program serves and what sort of timeframe it uses. Foresight orientation comes from a deep understanding of this.


That is, foresight orientation should be an organization-wide phenomena. Only when that is true, can organizations and individuals make the right decisions in the context of their operating environment.


To make it an organization-wide phenomena, this work has to be shared. That is not to say that everyone makes foresight their primary concern. Indeed, organizations, teams, and individuals wouldn't be able to operate effectively if that were the case.


But it does mean bringing everyone into the process of foresight. When the practice is shared, in other words, discussion and debate takes place across the organization, it is not only better decision-making that emerges (and this doesn't mean that everyone is involved in the decision-making, just in the sharing of opinions, beliefs, and alternatives at whatever level is desired by top management).


Another thing that emerges is confidence and consensus. Senior management, especially in times of change, needs to diffuse sensemaking throughout the organization. Doing this is a lot easier when everyone within the organization has had a change to participate in the process, even if at a small scale.


For that reason, a foresight-oriented organization is not better prepared for the future because it thought longer and more seriously and deeply about it. It is also better prepared because its employees and senior management are more aligned, sharing the same beliefs and working towards the same goals.


Foresight-orientation, therefore, is the first key success factor of a good foresight program.


This article is based on our latest eBook. Get your FREE copy today and get ready for the future. If you're looking for a tool to facilitate the process, take a look at our Foresight Platform and check out the free trial.


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