Foresight: Do you need a flight plan or a radar?

The future is a big place. Perhaps this is part of the reason that telling people you’re a futurist doesn’t really explain what you do. I call myself an applied futurist, but sometimes it’s more descriptive to call myself a near-term futurist.

The best analogy for the different types of foresight is to think about a flight — something fresh in my memory having landed in the US last night.

Before the flight departs, the captain knows his destination and how he plans to get there. The route is laid in. But that route doesn’t — and can’t — take account of any hazards along the way. Any number of hazards could cause a flight to reroute: internal issues with the plane, weather conditions, or even other aircraft in the way.

Sorry if you’re scared of flying.

Sometimes these hazards mean that your planned destination is simply un-achievable and you need to think again. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one — you can’t start a journey without a direction. But you have to scan constantly for hazards en route.

We help organisations to plan their destination, with long range tools like Scenario Planning. But our bread and butter is foresight in the near term. The five year range and the hazards within that range that could divert your organisation from its destination.

Or worse. (Sorry again).

When you’re thinking about the future, and you should be, think about what question you’re asking. Is it ‘where do we want to be?’ Or is it ‘what’s going to stop us getting there?’

There’s the more positive corollary to this of course: ‘what currents should we ride to accelerate our journey?’ Or in non-analogy form, ‘what changes and trends should we be taking advantage of?’

Sadly leaders don’t ask this question often enough: our more positive work tends to be for marketers seeking interesting topics, than for leaders seeking opportunities.

There is the least immediate motivation to ask this question — the others are more often prompted by necessity or fear. But its the one that perhaps offers the greatest advantage in its answer.

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Tom Cheesewright