The next #1 or­gan­i­sa­tional ca­pa­bil­ity

In our fast-chang­ing world, it is vi­tal that com­pa­nies prac­tise fore­sight in or­der to adapt – or risk be­com­ing ir­rel­e­vant.

Finweek English Edition - - On The Money - By Doris Viljoen Ed­i­to­rial@fin­ Doris Viljoen is a se­nior fu­tur­ist at the In­sti­tute for Fu­tures Re­search (IFR) at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity.

prac­tis­ing fore­sight is not new. It is a nat­u­ral abil­ity, pro­grammed into our be­ing. Even the cave­men used lead­ing in­di­ca­tors – they in­ter­preted in­creased ant ac­tiv­ity as an in­di­ca­tor of ad­verse weather con­di­tions on the way. Fore­sight in an or­gan­i­sa­tion hap­pens when ef­forts are made to spot dis­con­tin­u­ous change as early as pos­si­ble and to imag­ine the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of that change.

Some peo­ple con­fuse prac­tis­ing fore­sight with mak­ing fore­casts. Fore­cast­ing is a re­ally good tech­nique to ap­ply when think­ing about the short­term fu­ture. How­ever, fore­sight is much more than try­ing to make ac­cu­rate fore­casts. Fore­cast­ing tools and tech­niques make up an im­por­tant, but small, part of a good fore­sight tool­kit.

For many years, the fu­ture was seen as a straight line, hence fore­casts and pro­jec­tions. In­creased tur­bu­lence and shorter life cy­cles of new tech­nolo­gies are shift­ing our ideas of pos­si­ble fu­tures and how to de­sign and de­velop prod­ucts and ser­vices in an in­creas­ingly com­plex en­vi­ron­ment. Go­ing for­ward, even deeper in­sight and bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the forces that are shap­ing the fu­ture are nec­es­sary to stay rel­e­vant.

Fore­sight prac­ti­tion­ers see the fu­ture as a set of plau­si­ble out­comes rather than as one pre-de­fined fu­ture that can be dis­cov­ered; they also be­lieve that peo­ple can in­flu­ence the fu­ture that en­sues.

Fore­sight ac­tiv­i­ties, by their very na­ture, will high­light un­cer­tain­ties, in­tro­duce fuzzi­ness and de­liver no right/wrong an­swers; the ben­e­fit comes from the learn­ing that emerges from the process rather than from of­fer­ing a clearcut so­lu­tion.

The writer and fu­tur­ist, Alvin Tof­fler, fa­mously said: “In deal­ing with the fu­ture, it is far more im­por­tant to be imag­i­na­tive than to be right.”

The abil­ity to deal with the am­bi­gu­ity in­her­ent in fore­sight ac­tiv­i­ties re­quires spe­cial com­pe­ten­cies from or­gan­i­sa­tional lead­ers. Such lead­ers can­not af­ford to be con­tex­tu­ally blind; they need to have an in­her­ent de­sire to know more about the fu­ture con­texts in which their or­gan­i­sa­tion will op­er­ate, to think on mul­ti­ple lev­els of com­pre­hen­sion, ini­ti­ate con­ver­sa­tions, cre­ate a cul­ture of un­in­hib­ited think­ing, have an open mind and be myth-mak­ers and sto­ry­tellers of note.

En­trench­ing fore­sight in an or­gan­i­sa­tion re­quires a ded­i­cated ef­fort and com­mit­ment from lead­ers and fol­low­ers on all lev­els. Fore­sight should be a char­ac­ter­is­tic of how the peo­ple in an or­gan­i­sa­tion work to­gether rather than a set of ac­tiv­i­ties, tools and tech­niques.

The best fuel for fore­sight is cu­rios­ity and imag­i­na­tion. There­fore, or­gan­i­sa­tions should be a safe en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows open and un­in­hib­ited cu­rios­ity.

The aim of fos­ter­ing fore­sight in an or­gan­i­sa­tion is to de­velop an in­formed view of the mul­ti­ple fu­tures it could be fac­ing so that the or­gan­i­sa­tion can learn from the fu­ture be­fore it ar­rives and be pre­pared for ac­tion when it does.


1. PRAC­TISE PRO­FOUND HIND­SIGHT: We should cre­ate a rich past and a mean­ing­ful present by analysing what has hap­pened in as much de­tail as pos­si­ble. Also, we have to en­sure that we are learn­ing from it. Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances are mak­ing an­a­lyt­ics tools bet­ter, cheaper and eas­ier to use, with ven­dors of­fer­ing an ar­ray of mod­el­ling tools and ap­pli­ca­tions pro­vid­ing in­sight into what hap­pened in the past and is hap­pen­ing in the present. Com­bined with vi­su­al­i­sa­tions it be­comes a mean­ing­ful way to learn from what hap­pened and to in­form ap­proaches of which events to avoid or seek in fu­ture.

2. CRE­ATE AN IN-HOUSE IN­TEL­LI­GENCE SYS­TEM: Or­gan­i­sa­tions should de­velop an early warn­ing sys­tem from a com­pi­la­tion of lead­ing in­di­ca­tors based on their cur­rent strat­egy. The re­quired com­pe­tence to prac­tise fore­sight prob­a­bly ex­ists within the or­gan­i­sa­tion al­ready. Ev­ery per­son knows their area of re­spon­si­bil­ity best and should be em­pow­ered to con­trib­ute views of pos­si­ble fu­tures on an on­go­ing ba­sis.

3. CON­TRACT EX­TER­NAL PEO­PLE AND OR­GAN­I­SA­TIONS TO SUP­PLY IN­FOR­MA­TION: High-per­form­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions en­sure that they ob­tain

in­for­ma­tion from mul­ti­ple sources in or­der to recog­nise trends and keep their fin­gers on the pulse of what is hap­pen­ing in their en­vi­ron­ment. Most of the fa­mous dis­rup­tions of the past came from de­vel­op­ments out­side of the in­cum­bents’ in­dus­try.

4. EN­TRENCH FU­TURE CON­SCIOUS­NESS INTO OR­GAN­I­SA­TIONAL SYS­TEMS: Or­gan­i­sa­tional lead­ers should strive to em­bed strate­gic lis­ten­ing into all sys­tems so that they can do some­thing with the data pro­duced through strate­gic lis­ten­ing and in­tel­li­gence sys­tems. A for­mal data man­age­ment sys­tem should be cre­ated, not just to cap­ture and store data, but to ac­cess and use it for sense-mak­ing, knowl­edge-creat­ing and de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

Peo­ple in the or­gan­i­sa­tion should be in­ter­con­nected in a way that fos­ters good com­mu­ni­ca­tion across si­los. At one or­gan­i­sa­tion the fol­low­ing ques­tion is asked at ev­ery meet­ing: “What did we learn about the fu­ture today?”

Peo­ple in the or­gan­i­sa­tion should reg­u­larly be told a story about the fu­ture. Each story about a plau­si­ble fu­ture should have its au­di­ence im­mersed into an ex­pe­ri­ence of what that fu­ture could be like. The au­di­ence should ex­pe­ri­ence how that fu­ture could play out if we base our ac­tiv­i­ties on a par­tic­u­lar set of as­sump­tions or give pri­or­ity to cer­tain ac­tors. The story should be told in such a way that they can re­late to it and en­gage with it. If we tell the sto­ries well, it would high­light pos­si­bil­i­ties, op­por­tu­ni­ties, threats and ob­sta­cles that could emerge based on the de­ci­sions we take today, thereby al­low­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ers the op­por­tu­nity to con­sider their op­tions and chal­lenges in each case.

For this pur­pose, tech­nol­ogy is our friend. Ad­vances in graph­ics, pre­sen­ta­tion soft­ware, videog­ra­phy and so­cial me­dia en­able us to tell sto­ries in a much more vivid way than be­fore.

Sto­ries about plau­si­ble fu­tures serve as a men­tal re­hearsal, pre­par­ing peo­ple to recog­nise the in­di­ca­tors of change if and when these emerge. De­ci­sion-mak­ers will be able to pre-empt po­ten­tial out­comes as the fu­ture is un­fold­ing based on their “me­mories” of that fu­ture from the sto­ries told be­fore. This puts them in a po­si­tion to re­act faster, be un­sur­prised by the change, make bet­ter de­ci­sions and adapt to a new nor­mal more quickly.

Doris Viljoen Se­nior fu­tur­ist at the In­sti­tute for Fu­tures Re­search (IFR)

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