Get Answers to Common Questions About Futures and Foresight

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Hi, I'm Dan Fukushima. Here at Toffler Associates, we've been helping organizations prepare for uncertain futures for over 25 years using futures and foresight. That's the process of studying the various ways the future may unfold to help organizations make better decisions today.

In the next few minutes, I'm going to review some common questions we get about futures and foresight to help you determine whether it's right for your organization.

What is futures and foresight?

One way to think about futures and foresight is as the combination of three ingredients:

  1. Knowledge of the past
  2. Studying the forces that impact the future, and
  3. A healthy dose of imagination.

Those ingredients combine to create the potential futures that an organization should prepare for.

How is futures and foresight different than traditional strategic planning?

One analogy we use is comparing it to hurricane preparations. Traditional strategic planning is more like how hurricane forecasting is done today: It's a quantitative model that's based on historical data. It's only useful over a short time horizon, because beyond that point, there are too many variables to quantitatively track and make accurate, historically-based predictions.

On the other hand, futures and foresight looks beyond the model and says, "Imagine if the hurricane went this way, or this way, or this way," with a goal of not trying to predict a single path, but preparing for any path.

As change gets faster and faster, historical data gets less reliable and the uncertainty horizon gets closer and closer. Futures and foresight allows organizations to look beyond that horizon.

Should using futures and foresight replace traditional strategic planning?

It's not an either/or situation. If you were with a hotel company in 2009, strategic planning would be core to your operations. However, no amount of extrapolating historical data would highlight the threat AirBnB would become by 2011. Seeing threats like that - and opportunities - takes understanding the forces of change and imagination. 

Can futures and foresight help improve organizational agility?

Absolutely. Organizations that focus on one predicted future often hardwire strategies, systems, processes, and structures to optimize for that one future, which makes adapting to an alternative future difficult and slow. On the other hand, organizations that prepare for multiple futures develop strategies, systems, processes, and structures that can adapt when environmental conditions shift.

How can futures and foresight help with organizational resilience?

By looking at multiple potential futures and the threats they create, futures and foresight can be used to develop mitigation strategies. A healthy dose of imagination is particularly beneficial here to test organizational resilience against a variety of threat scenarios.

Final thoughts on futures and foresight

I'll leave you with a phrase we frequently use: "It's better to be ready than right." This means that success is less about predicting one future state than building an organization that is flexible and adaptive to a wide range of futures.

That's all the time we have for today. For more information about how your organization can benefit from futures and foresight, see our checklist: 5 Signs Your Organization Needs Futures and Foresight. Have a great day.