Chapter 1 discusses how to best build and utilize a team structure for the purpose of strategic foresight. It is essential to have all members on the team, as well as the analyst, with differing points of view who are not so attached to their personal biases or assumptions that they can come together to take a look at potential discontinuities and achieve the organization’s goal for the future. The more eclectic the group, the less likely the group will fall back on “groupthink”, leading to a broader range of potential ideas to achieve the goal. The chapter offers various tactics to avoid the common pitfalls of working in a team setting, including making connections between the stated objective and how to get there.
The team must have the time frame in mind during all stages of the strategic foresight activity. The analyst must strive to help make connections and balance the perceived time frame set by the organization, which is often short-term and based on the bottom line, with a long-term plan with a focus on long term gains. It is easiest to achieve these goals in a creative and immersive environment where the team is free to have constructive disagreements that will often lead to better solutions.
One of the first key steps in scanning is to avoid staying “inside the box” that has no “windows” to the outside world. Staying inside the box is often cheaper, safer, and more comfortable for an organization. However, when this happens, the organization or company is subject to neglecting other views that could potentially mean the end of that company or organization. To find those views, you can use a systems map which will help you identify key people and the driving forces that have an impact on a certain issue. This gives you a road map for the rest of this process, and unlike real maps, this road map can change as the situation, assumptions, and trends change.
The most challenging part of creating a systems map is to get the correct level of complexity. If the issue is too narrow, then you and the organization fail to see the forest for the trees; there is a failure to see the bigger picture. This could lead to huge blindsides and could ultimately cause catastrophic problems for a company or organization. However, if there are too many forces or key people on this map it becomes convoluted and the map becomes useless. When creating the systems map, it is important to consider many different views and approach the issue from many different angles.
Once the issue is clearly defined, you need to clearly define the people or groups that have influence, or could have influence, on the specific issue whether it be positive or negative. With both views, they can avoid being blindsided by the “other side”. Once you have your key individuals/groups identified, you can begin the research phase. The phrase coined by George Santayana comes to mind: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If you do not research the history of how a company, product, or organization got to where it is now, how can you possibly begin to “see” the future and where the industry is headed? A time series compares quantitative data over time and reveals subtle trends or patterns that might not be visible to those who are too close to the issue. Often the organization is more concerned with the short term, so they assume that no discontinuities will occur, however, as the time frame lengthens, that assumption becomes dangerous. Qualitative data allows us to delineate eras, to see events that changed the course of history, and allows us to imagine the type of discontinuities that could occur in the future.
When beginning a foresight activity, many people have the attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. While this is true for many things, if this becomes the primary attitude for the entire organization they are likely to be left behind and they won’t realize it until they see diminishing returns, which in some cases is too late. Just because a product or company was previously successful doesn’t mean they will continue to be successful. A strong example is RadioShack: even though they helped usher in the digital age, they failed to foresee the explosion of online shopping (Amazon, eBay, etc.). Now, customers can sit at home and get the item they need, often in a very timely manner.
This also shows that you must be aware of the surrounding environment, of where that specific industry is heading. This is termed as scanning while being aware of changing trends internally, on a particular activity, is known as the scan. Without a clear line of communication between what is going on outside as well as inside, key views can be left out.
The most proactive way for a company to ensure long term survival is to leap outside of their “box” of knowledge and pull information from as many different sectors as possible. Sometimes, the best ideas come when an individual expands their horizon of knowledge, when they see the issue through someone else’s point of view. Sometimes it helps to bring in someone who knows a lot of information about a lot of different subjects. This can help bring alternative interpretations to situations because they are a total outsider, someone who isn’t invested in the success or failure of a specific project.
Another place for new and innovative ideas that are often overlooked is the in the fringe area of the company, “the outsiders”. Almost every successful company or product was once thought of as absurd, novel, or not useful. However, here we are with computers, smartphones, touchscreens, and tablets.
These are assignments that I have turned in for my TECH 4310 Future of Energy and Environment class, these are my own thoughts and you may not take them without citing them.
The book that this reflection is on is titled Thinking About the Future; Guidelines for Strategic Foresight edited by Andy Hines and Peter Bishop.