Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

A Vision of Foresight Culture

One of the powerful sets of methods our field has explored in the last sixty years are those of visioning, the ways we discover, create, and describe aspirational futures. Ever since Fred Polak’s The Image of the Future (1973) foresight practitioners have realized that one of our jobs is to help our clients find motivating and worthy visions (“future images”) to steer toward. Like the force of gravity, a strong vision will pull a group toward a particular preferred future, motivating with a strength proportional to the group’s belief in the worthiness and credibility of the vision and of leadership. Clearly, ensuring the worthiness of our visions and the morality of our leaders is no small thing. Many leaders have used visions, persuasion and propaganda in the past to steer groups toward futures that were ultimately impractical, dehumanizing, or unsustainable.

One strategy to ensure worthy visions is to align them with group values. If visions are not so aligned, either the vision or the group needs to change so the vision can be representative. Another is to subject our visions to frank feedback and criticism from anyone who will be impacted by them. A third strategy is to search for the most positive-sum outcome we think we can realistically attain. Let’s now introduce a vision that will be central to this guide. Hopefully it aligns with your own values, and we encourage you to share it with and get feedback from others whenever appropriate.

Humanity is just now learning that foresight is as valuable as hindsight (history) and insight (current conditions) to being adaptive in our complex, accelerating world. This guide will introduce you to individuals, organizations, and societies that have chosen to cultivate a “foresight culture” for themselves and their associates. Foresight cultures recognize there are a wealth of useful ways to manage the future, including prediction, forecasting, intelligence, insurance, sensing and rapid reaction, planning, visioning, innovation, and strategy, to name some of the more popular choices. They know that while we are still early in understanding which foresight methods are right for which contexts, by choosing to prioritize foresight, we invariably get better at it, and expand our tools and data sets. They also know the future has become too important, and our planet’s lives and purposes too valuable, to leave tomorrow to chance, to unexamined traditions, or to any other stewards than our own best evidence and collective wisdom, such as it is today.

Imagine how different our society would be today, how much farther along we’d be in our journey to global civilization and self-actualization, if the majority of us believed that thinking, talking, and teaching about the future were as important as the past and the present. Imagine if every major organization believed that whenever we use collaborative foresight methods, we have an opportunity to discover and create substantially more innovative and sustainable futures. That vision is emerging today, and it is being greatly accelerated by our digital tools and platforms. If you live another few decades you will have the satisfaction of seeing it flower in your lifetime. If you choose you can also lead its emergence, in whatever way best fits your path.

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