So what exactly is strategic foresight and more so how does it apply to your organization today? Let’s first start by distinguishing strategic foresight from strategic planning. The primary difference between strategic planning and strategic foresight is your perceptual location. By default, strategic planning positions you in the here-and-now in order to plan for the future. Strategic foresight places you into the future and requires you to look backward. Before you point out the obvious difficulties in time travel, let’s keep in mind that we are focused on perceptual, rather than actual location.
The fallacy of short range planning
Short range planning has been the practice of most corporations, governments, and communities throughout the 20th century. Our planning efforts must take on a larger and longer spans of time if we are to be successful regardless of changes in the business landscape. Because we’ve been trained to think in the short term, many organizations have failed to apply foresight to their strategic planning process.
Old habits die-hard
Shifting our strategic paradigm is more difficult than it may first appear. I see this often when working with new clients. Their natural inclination is to magnify today’s trends and issues over the next 5, 10, and 25 years. This however does not accomplish the goal of strategic foresight. Instead, this process reinforces their bias and assumptions about the world today and ultimately inhibits their ability to create a relevant and prosperous future.
So how do you shift your mental model and cultivate foresight in your organization? Here are some of the things you can do today to begin changing your strategic paradigm about future.
The next 5,10, and 25 years hold significant opportunities and potential obstacles for your long-term success. Here are a few general guidelines for each time frame:
5 years: late but not too late. Five years is typically the cut off point to make any real changes that can impact your business’s long-term success. You should consider this the time to begin laying out longer-term initiatives and correcting counterproductive strategic decisions.
10 years: the sweet spot: 10 years is a great place to begin as there is still enough time to make significant changes. I refer to this as the “sweet spot” because we have greater insight into potential disruptions and extraordinary opportunities.
25 years: Aspirational futures: We must give ourselves permission to think on the fringes, entertain the absurd, and imagine a world that is unimaginable today. 25 years is a “safe” place to explore these possibilities.
Why is this important? The answer is simple. In order to shift our strategic paradigm and overcome crippling uncertainty, we must imagine ourselves in a world that does not exist yet. From there we can begin to take strategic action that will position us for success over the next 5 to 25 years.
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