4. 4U’s Eight Skills of Foresight Practice (Model and Framework)
The Eight Skills are not just a decision cycle model, they are also a foresight practice framework. We organize the Guide around this particular framework, including the foresight methods we will discuss in Chapter 8 (Methods and Frameworks). The Eight Skills offer guidelines for both the relevant capacities and the rough order in which to do our most generally adaptive strategic foresight work.
The Twenty Functions are guidelines for key specialties in organizational foresight. Chapter 5 (Career Options) outlines where these specialties commonly reside in organizational departments. The Twenty Functions are also a simple foresight education framework. We’d love to see foresight programs introduce all of them to student practitioners. They are also represented by professional associations that offer specialty foresight training outside our primary training programs, as we saw in Chapter 1.
As we’ve seen, the Do loop and Eight Skills are based on perception-decision-action (PDA) cycles in cognitive science, allowing us to ground foresight in the way humans naturally think, emote, and intuit in the world. Foresight is something we all seek to do at personal, team, organizational, industry, societal and universal (scientific method) levels, to mention six particularly important natural systems.
As a competency framework for our field (a defined set of abilities and behaviors necessary for effectiveness), the Eight Skills have the great advantage of being terms already in common use by the global management community. That allows us to present foresight not as something privileged or specialized, but as skills that all of us have at least in modest amounts as self-managers and relationship managers, skills that great managers, teams, and organizations can further develop as they gain experience.
The unique skills of the foresight profession emerge at the subcompetency level in this framework. All of the Twenty Functions are included below in more specialized forms, with some new subcompetencies added, making this perhaps the most detailed framework in this guide for what foresighters do. Compared to typical managers and consultants, we lead teams in the development and practice of many special abilities and behaviors to discover, create, and manage futures, including scoping, retrospecting, scanning, sensemaking, predicting, forecasting, baseline futuring, debiasing, alternative futuring, visioning, facilitating, designing, goalsetting, and assessing foresight progress, capacity and performance.
We also distinguish ourselves from the traditional management community in the use of foresight-building models (Chapters 2, 6, and 8), methods (Chapter 7), and personal foresight tools (Chapter 4). Our field is rich and rapidly changing, and we’ll develop many more subcompetencies as new predictive analytics, machine learning, and crowd foresight tools and platforms emerge.
What follows here is not a definitive list of foresight competencies and subcompetencies, but hopefully a useful start, leaving many questions unanswered. What would you modify, add, or remove? How should organizations of different sizes best apply the Eight Skills, and staff the Twenty Functions? How do we best assess individual, team, and organizational competency in the Skills, functions, and subcompetencies? For now, we leave such questions to our community for further research.
Recall that the Eight Skills can be divided into Four Foresight Steps (Learning, which is foresight preparation, and the Three P’s, which are foresight production) and Four Action Steps (Execution, Influencing, Relating, and Reviewing). Here they are in detail:
Learning is scoping the client’s needs, gaining the skills, and doing the research to gain foresight.
- Scoping: defining and bounding the foresight topic, extent, and timeframe, determining stakeholders, diagnosing client and stakeholder knowledge, needs, and receptivity.
- Mapping: building a map of the topic and categories for research.
- Metrics and Data: Determining and analyzing key data and indicators to know current status
- Hindsight: understanding historical context and the most recent discontinuities
- Learning and Development: engaging a team in training and skillbuilding to improve foresight
- Scanning: finding emerging issues, indicators and signals of change, aka “scanning hits.”
- Intelligence/Sensemaking: analyzing and evaluating to gain insight into system patterns.
Anticipating is identifying a set of convergent, baseline, expected futures.
- Predicting: making specific predictions of an expected future, with a probability attached
- Forecasting: using trend analysis to estimate a variable of interest over a range of future dates
- Baseline futuring: forecasting a baseline future from current trends and plans, along with its assumptions and associated risk.
- Risk management: determining the risk environment and major uncertainties
- Investing: determining the most viable current opportunities for creating future value
Innovating is generating a range of divergent, possible alternative futures and prototypes.
- Debiasing: helping clients see their biases, relax pre-conceived notions, see with fresh eyes.
- Designing: activities or artifacts to explore baseline and alternative futures and visions.
- Alternative futuring: generating possible and plausible alternative futures or scenarios based on wildcards, ideas, and images built around key uncertainties.
Strategy is enabling re-convergence on visions and real options toward preferred futures.
- Interpreting: considering the implications suggested by the baseline and alternative futures.
- Strategizing: reflection and analysis of real options, weighing their pros and cons.
- Visioning: identifying and getting commitment for a preferred future, or set of futures.
Executing is translating strategy into action (of the client or the foresighter).
- Facilitating: guiding interpersonal interactions to achieve desired foresight results.
- Goalsetting: getting client commitment to specific goals to achieve the shared vision
- Planning: bridging goals and the present state with options, tactics, and planned actions.
- Producing: creating and managing our and others foresight products and services.
Influencing is selling foresight work to client leaders and stakeholders.
- Communicating: relating visions, baseline and alternative futures and strategic options to capture stakeholder attention and influence their actions.
- Selling: promoting our services, convincing others of their value, growing our practice.
Relating is understanding leaders and stakeholders and acting with their best interests in mind.
- Empathizing: understanding client fears, hopes, and needs, and their current culture.
- Teambuilding: creating strong and cognitively diverse practitioner teams.
- Ethical practice: knowing appropriate behavior for context and culture.
Reviewing is measuring and collecting feedback on the quality and results of foresight work.
- Assessing progress: tracking indicators or precursors that indicate progress (or not) to a goal, how uncertainty is resolving among baseline and alternative futures, change management.
- Assessing performance: measuring foresight work quality, and client satisfaction.
- Assessing capacity: determining whether the client has more internal foresight capacity (without our future help) than they had before our engagement.