Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

Foresight’s Open Secret – It Is Only Valuable to a Point

There is another sometimes unpleasant reality to our work that must now be acknowledged. An open secret of foresight work, something we practitioners know and would do well to remind our clients, is that any of its specific methods can quickly become a waste of our client’s time and money. There may be little strategic value in the particular type of foresight work (research, studies, expert groups, forecasts, scenarios, alternatives, plans, roadmaps) being requested by our client, they may need something else besides foresight work, or the client may be in no position to act on the foresight produced, which is the real problem that needs to be fixed.

Finally, once we start into foresight work, the marginal costs of such work will increasingly outweigh its benefits, and the effort we would spend to produce it can’t be justified by a realistic benefit-cost analysis. There is a “sweet spot” to how much looking ahead we do, and it varies by need and context. Anyone who has ever done too much planning, only to have their plans dashed at the first encounter with reality, knows this truth.

Sometimes, instead of trying to better forecast or predict (anticipation) or better imagine or create what may come next (innovation, alternative futuring), or craft better strategy and plans, it may be much smarter for the organization, in a particular context, to focus on gaining better current situational awareness (learning, intelligence), faster or better execution (efficiency, strategic agility), a stronger sway with customers or stakeholders (influence), better resources and renewal for the team (relating), or better ability to review and adjust after mistakes.

As we’ll see, all eight of these choices are core skills every organization needs to be successful. Taken together, we call these the Eight Skills of adaptive foresight practice in this Guide. Each are critical to organizational survival, and each needs to happen in the right balance with the others in order for useful foresight to occur.  Finally, each of these Eight Skills has declining marginal value the more it is pursued at the cost of the others. Keep this fact in mind as you help your clients to lead, manage, and thrive.

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