Foresight Professional – A Simple Definition
Pioneering futurist Joe Coates (1929-2014), offered us a simple, starter definition: a foresight professional is anyone who takes money for looking to and analyzing the future, for a client. Some of us may do mostly pro bono work, but as in professional sports, once even a small part of our income and job description can be tied to future thinking, and once we serve a particular client, we belong in a different category. A future-thinker without a paying client is an amateur, a lover of the field, but not yet a professional.
How do we assess client impact in our foresight practice? Consider public health futurist Annette Gardner’s suggested foresight practice competency scale. She proposes that a good model for foresight competency assessment may be a variation of the quantitative Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice (KAP) survey model for assessing professional competency based on the way the professional affects behavior change capacity in one’s clients. The KAP model originated in public health, and is now being applied to a few other professional fields.
Below is my own adaptation of her proposed foresight practice competency scale and language:
Gardner’s Foresight Practice Competency Levels (for practitioners):
0 = No foresight – practitioner is fine with the status quo.
1 = Awareness of time, change, environment, the future, and complex systems, including accelerating change and evolutionary development (evo devo).
2 = Interested in learning foresight techniques, and connecting with and learning with other future-thinking practitioners, within your own industry, at least.
3 = Knowledgeable in some foresight techniques, and experienced in applying some to yourself or others, but not yet experienced in applying all of the Three P’s or Eight Skills.
4 = Individual change agent – experienced applying Three P’s and Eight Skills to individual personal or professional futures.
5 = Group change agent – experienced engaging teams and groups to produce anticipatory (probable), creative (possible), and aspirational (preferable) foresight and change.
6 = Master/teacher – able to teach others to teach foresight techniques, and help grow a foresight culture of anticipatory, creative, and aspirational change.
Where would you presently self-rate on this scale? Where would your colleagues rank you? Your well-respected critics? Do you seek to make your own foresight work redundant (increasingly unneeded) over time? Are you creating the conditions for a healthy foresight culture that is stronger than any individual? Is that the highest goal of your interactions with your clients? Not only should a foresight professionals create positive, progressive, and adaptive change with their clients, ideally they will produce conditions that perpetuate such change. A master/teacher, on the competency scale above, has made themselves particularly redundant, as an individual, in the system in which they practice. The client’s culture and processes can now take care of themselves.
The Temporal Triad
Recall our discussion of the Temporal Triad of cognitive-emotional processes that good practitioners must continually balance to be adaptive. To build foresight in a strategic environment, a professional first needs good hindsight (knowledge of relevant history) and insight (knowledge of causal factors and data for the current situation).
The Renaissance scholar and poet Petrarch (1304-1374) was perhaps our earliest modern scholar to propose the importance of this triad. He said we must first develop a “mastery” in our understanding of the past if we wish to improve upon it. Petrarch was an early founder of humanism, and coined the term “Dark Ages” when Europe was barely out of them in 1330. As did Petrarch, some foresight practitioners find that first explaining the value of hindsight and insight to their clients is the shortest path to helping them understand the value of foresight, our third great class of mental work.
But unfortunately, having foresight alone does not ensure that we will be adaptive. Adaptability requires successful strategy, planning and execution. For that we need strategic foresight, foresight that changes our strategy, plans, and actions, and adaptive foresight, strategy, plans, and action that improve our present condition and increase our long-term environmental success.
Peter Bishop, the recently retired Associate Professor of the U. Houston MS Foresight program and a leading light to many in our field is fond of saying, “change is hard, but stagnation is fatal”. To survive, often the only way forward is better strategic management of change. Using your foresight skills to bring success to your clients and yourself is thus a challenging, humbling, yet exciting and potentially rewarding journey.
Peter’s Teach the Future initiative is a noble effort to bring foresight curricula and values to academic institutions, pre-K through graduate level. It is an inspiring example of the steps we must take together to build a stronger global foresight culture in coming years, and we urge you to give him your support. Almost all our best ideas start with a few bold steps in the right direction.
Envisioning Your Professional Needs
Any professional looking to get paid at least occasionally for their foresight work, even if they do it only a few minutes or hours a week in their job description, as is the case for most of us, should ask themselves questions like the following:
- What kinds of foresight work do you most have a passion to do? What kinds should you also do regardless of your passion?
- How much or little of your job should your foresight work involve?
- Who are the right clients for your foresight work? What kinds of foresight work do your clients expect? What do they need?
- How will you know your work is effective? How will you prove your value to your clients?
- Who are your foresight colleagues, and how can they support your work?
We’ll cover some tentative answers for these questions, for both very part-time foresight professionals (most of us) and for full-time foresight professionals, in the remainder of this chapter. For some clients, the foresight professional may be expected to be an independent, extroverted generalist, continually expanding the client’s horizons, and consistently delivering new learning. For others, the foresight professional may be expected to be a team player, a specialist, or an employee happy to work alone on a particular foresight method, competency, or product.
We will discuss a variety of choices and types of foresight professional in Chapter 3, Career Options. Finding your place in this pantheon of possibilities is part of your professional journey. The more you learn to balance hindsight, insight, and foresight, and the Three Ps, the more effective and enjoyable your foresight journey will become.