Chapter 6. Models – Foundations for Organizational Foresight

III. Decision Cycle Models

We now turn to decision cycle models. These are our first major group of process models, and are concerned with helping us to make better decisions, in a cyclic manner. These models are particularly helpful to our personal and organizational decisions, which we can directly control or influence as leaders.

In the 1950s to 1970s, Jay Forrester, Norbert Weiner, and others founded new academic fields, with names like system dynamics and cybernetics, which proposed that living and nonliving complex systems use informational cycles and communication networks to adapt to (find a dynamic equilibrium in) their environment. My mentor James Grier Miller, author of the encyclopedic Living Systems Theory, 1978, was among these pioneers. The new insight these individuals offered was that information flows (cycles and networks) are as important to the self-organizion of complex adaptive systems in the universe as are physical flows (space, time, energy, and matter), and that both kinds of dynamics must be studied if we are to understand the rise of intelligence in complex systems.

The informational loops and networks of communicating and interacting genes, proteins, cells, organs, organisms, and ecologies were typically far more complex than twentieth century science could capture. But the life sciences and modeling continued to advance, and today, fields like gene regulatory networks, computational biology and computational neuroscience are making great progress at modeling and predicting biological processes. We now know decision cycles (perception, thinking, and action loops, with feedback) and networks (conditional loops that connect individual actors or modules in complex systems) are central to all complex adaptive systems. Thus I am convinced that foresight, too, can now be best understood from a loop, network, and systems perspective.

Let’s now look at a few foresight decision cycle models, ranging in complexity from three- to eight-categories. The last model will be our Eight Skills of Adaptive Foresight, the main foresight practice model we recommend in this guide.

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