Strategic Foresight

I participated in a mini workshop yesterday led by Dr. David Staley principal of The DStaley Group titled “Futures Thinking for Leaders” while attending the 2011 SunGard Executive Summit.  He’s also written a couple thought provoking articles for EDUCAUSE Review titled “Managing the Platform:  Higher Education and the Logic of Wikinomics” and “The Changing Landscape of Higher Education”.  During the mini workshop he shared “9 Habits of Mind for Futurists”:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Imagination
  3. What if?
  4. Openness to Change
  5. Sense Making
  6. Systems Thinking
  7. Peripheral Vision
  8. Challenge Assumptions
  9. Anti-Thinking

These characteristics of how futurists may think (in part) describe a frame of mind and some ways of developing strategic foresight that might help with imagining and articulating what to anticipate and plan for.  These traits were further outlined in a handout from the mini workshop (provided below with permission combined with some of my notes):

Curiosity:

  • Interest in something because it’s interesting
  • Interest in the surrounding environment
  • Broad intake of all forms of information (written, audio and visual) outside of one’s primary professional interests

Imagination:

  • Ability to project change onto a volume of space and time
  • To look at a situation and visualize it differently
  • Three types of imagination – 1) Reconstructive  2) Substitution  3) Creative

What if ?

  • Most important question futurists ask
  • To increase situational awareness
  • To enhance visioning
  • “What if students no longer demand higher education?”
  • “What if the TED model becomes a new way to deliver higher education?”

Openness to Change:

Consider the history of the environment

  • How was the organization different a generation ago?
  • What are those areas of the environment most susceptible to change? (“Slippable”)
  • Understanding of disruption, discontinuity
  • Understanding of different degrees/rates of change

Corallary:  Openess to continuity

Sense Making:

  • Not just acquisition of data and information from an environment
  • Implications assessment: projecting the potential effects of an event
  • Via your own curiosity, when noting an important change in your environment, asking “what does this mean?”

Systems Thinking:

A system: a set of things interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time

  • Complex behavior not simple
  • Non-predictable
  • Simultaneity, not linear cause and effect
  • Feedback loops
  • Individual elements part of a larger whole
  • Small changes can lead to big effects
  • Connections across separate domains

Peripheral Vision:

  • Ability to “imagine the unimaginable” (high impact low probability)

Challenge Assumptions:

  • Ability to identify “load bearing assumptions” in a system
  • “Always” and “Never” scenarios

Anti-thinking:  (barriers to creativity, innovation and change)

  • Tradition/convention/social norms “The way it has always been done”
  • Ideology:  Knowing the answers before the question is asked
  • Constitutions, laws, rules, regulations “What we’re allowed to do”
  • World view: a lens on the world
  • Benchmarking that is limited to imitating
  • Certainty: mental brittleness (versus “mental flexibility”)
  • Fear, Anger
  • Confusion, panic
  • Myths
  • Stereotypes

It seems to me that strategy formulated from the preceding characteristic traits of futurist thinking can lead to foresight that illuminates visionary possibilities.  Good stuff!

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