Future Friday: Seven steps to developing “corporate foresight”

Seven steps can make you an effective futurist in your organization.
Seven steps can make you an effective futurist in your organization.

I have a presentation that I have done several times called “7 Steps to becoming a practical HR futurist.” I think it is important for Human Resources professionals to have an eye toward the future. That is why I write Future Friday. So it was interesting when I came across a post by futurist John B. Mahaffie of Leading Futurists LLC. Entitled  “7 first steps for building an organization’s foresight”, it has some great steps and is not dissimilar to my post.

My 7 steps

My seven steps include the following:

  1. Engage in systems thinking and understand your mental models
  2. Look back to look forward
  3. Scan the environment
  4. Look at the trends
  5. Develop scenarios
  6. Do your forecasting
  7. “DO”

Mahaffie’s steps

Step 1 Mahaffie tells us to first talk to people about the organization’s future. Make it a thoughtful, creative conversation about where the organization is going. The purpose of this is to get people thinking about foresight.
Step 2 is to find colleagues who are also interested in the future of the organization who will challenge you and allow you to challenge them. Have a consistent meeting, perhaps a lunch, over the topic and try to keep the group interested.
Step 3 is do environmental scanning. He says “Start learning about the wider world of forces, trends, issues, challenges, and opportunities that you face. That means carving out some time to do what is called environmental scanning–exploring for new trends, ideas, issues across all sorts of media.”
Step 4 is what he calls “pay it forward.” Basically what he means by this is to share the information about trends that may affect the organization. Make people aware of what you are finding out. He says you may develop a reputation for your valued insights.
Step 5 is encouragement for you to get some outside help or involvement. He suggest joining organizations that have the “future” as their focus, such as the two I belong to, The World Future Society and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Great insight can be gleaned from their publications.
Step 6 is that you need to get visible about it. As he suggests “Commandeer a wall, whiteboard, or similar, and put some questions up: ‘What are the top trends shaping our future?’ ‘What are we not talking about that we should?’ Get a conversation going, share and nurture the comments.”
Step 7 tells you to bring the topic of the future or foresight up every reasonable place you can. If you are in a meeting and a topic was discussed he suggests saying “can we take a moment and look at how this plays out, longer term?” With that you will develop that reputation of being the futurist in the room.

My 7 steps revisited

In my seven steps you have to understand your organization and how it thinks (systems thinking and mental models). You need to understand the history or your organization and the industry. How has it progressed to this point? You need to scan the environment focusing on the issues of interest to you and your organization and then identify the trends that may be important. I then suggest you develop some alternative scenarios (stories) about what could happen and what your responses might be (forecasting). Then finally “do” which takes into consideration much of what Mahaffie suggested. Don’t just make it an intellectual exercise for your benefit. Enlist others in the scanning and talk to others about what you are finding.
I think if you mesh these two sets of seven steps you will have a good chance of becoming that practical futurist and gain the opportunity to help your organization be prepared on how to handle the future as it rushes at us at light speed. (A speeding train analogy is so last century.)

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