Stealth foresight

Was delighted the other day to receive some copies of the current Journal of Futures Studies, with my essay Stealth Foresight for Innovation: creating support for creative change in large organisations in Australia. Looks good: formal cite is ‘Journal of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taipei; November 2007, 12(2): 121-128’. Many thanks to the JFS crew, and to Jose Ramos in particular, for nursemaiding the essay through into production.

(The link with the futures stems from my somewhat unsuccessful experience as a postgraduate student on the ‘Strategic Foresight’ course at Swinburne University in Melbourne, back in 2002 or thereabouts.  I only did the first year of the course, partly for reasons of cost, partly because I fell out badly with the professor – Richard Slaughter was focussed firmly on educational futures, with little apparent interest or patience for anything else – but mostly because what was being taught there seemed to have too little relevance to the real business issues I was working with. Sohail Inayatullah’s causal layered analysis is brilliant but to my mind still overhyped and underdeveloped, and the obsession with Ken Wilber’s overweening ego in so-called ‘integral futures‘ was frankly nauseating. Most of the other students were great, though – real people doing real innovative work – and many continue to be friends and colleagues to this day. But I digress…)

Basic idea of the article is simple: all organisations need foresight, but most do everything they can to suppress it! To do that kind of work, we need some way to conceal what we’re actually doing – hence ‘stealth foresight’, ways to embed foresight capabilities within everyday business tools and techniques. By ‘foresight capabilities’, what I mean are concerns such as:

  • the long view – at the very least, a timescale longer than ‘next quarter’, and preferably a lot longer than the usual business strategy-horizon of five years or so;
  • participation and engagement – engaging multiple views and perspectives, rather than just the narrow assumptions of a few select executives
  • creating space for complexity and emergence – themes such as Cynefin and agile-development
  • supporting cross-boundary generalists, to link ideas and innovation across the whole of the enterprise

“So what is ‘stealth foresight’? In essence, we take a standard strategy-review tool or technique, and rework it to embed within it true foresight capabilities.” The article gives examples in scenario development, visioning, SWOT analysis, knowledge-management, enterprise-architecture and elsewhere.

The article isn’t on-line as yet, but may turn up on the JFS site in a few months’ time: if you’re interested, watch their ‘articles’ page, or drop me a line if you want an electronic copy.

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