Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

Four Domains of Adaptive Foresight

This Guide proposes that adaptive foresight is not only centered on the Three Ps, it requires a basic competence in four fundamental and culturally distinct knowledge and practice domains, universal, personal, global, and organizational foresight. A good mnemonic for the four domains is UPGO foresight. This is easy to remember, as we can think of the most adaptive systems as “upwards going,” with respect to progress and useful complexity. UPGO also summarizes our preferred sequence of first introducing these domains in an educational setting.

People who are attracted to thinking in one of these domains may not often be aware of, or enjoy practicing, in any or all of the others. But they are all important. The faster the world goes, the more we believe foresight professionals need to understand and use all four of these domains if they are to be both strategic and adaptive with their clients. Each of the Four Domains has something important to contribute to the Three Ps, to better anticipation, creation, and management of the future.

ForesightUniversityLogoTeaching all four of these domains as best we can is the founding mission of Foresight U, our educational startup in strategic foresight and entrepreneurship.

Abbreviations for Foresight University that we will use are Foresight U, or simply 4U, abbreviated “four you”. This last abbreviation has four meanings. First, it signifies the “fore” (ahead) concept in foresight, the key mental practice we want to grow, spread and professionalize. Second, it says our social enterprise exists for you, not us. 4U is incorporating as a social benefit corporation, and our mission is to help everyone become better foresight leaders, in every aspect of their lives. Third, it signifies the primacy of these four domains. Fourth, 4U avoids the acronym FU, which Fordham University and others struggle with, for understandable reasons :).

Three of these foresight domains are commonly recognized. In a bit more detail, they are:

  • Personal foresight (personality, goals, emotion, cognition, habits, relationships, family)
  • Organizational foresight (group, team, company, institutional futures)
  • Global foresight (national, social, economic, political, global, environmental futures)

Personal foresight is covered in Chapters 4 and 5, a brief intro to a very important practice domain.

Global foresight, which includes societal issues, challenges, opportunities, and trends, is discussed in in bits and pieces throughout this guide, and introduced in Chapters 6 and 7. See also our introductory global foresight reading list in Chapter 14.

Organizational foresight is covered in Chapters 8 through 14, and is the main topic of this first version of the Guide. The Three Ps and the Eight Skills (The Do Loop) are our core practice models in this domain, though they can also be used in the other four domains.

There is also a fourth, commonly overlooked, primary foresight practice domain:

  • Universal foresight (science, complexity studies, and systems theories of change)

After an introduction to the field (Chapter 1), both in the Guide and in 4U’s curriculum, we turn to universal foresight in Chapters 2 and 3. We believe starting with a well-grounded universal perspective is a necessary first step in serious foresight work. An appropriate Big Picture perspective on our future helps us better understand the universal environment in which we live, and the processes of change that appear to be both generally predictable and largely out of our control. This is a small minority of processes, but they constrain many aspects of the future, and understanding them is critical to seeing what’s coming.

Universal foresight includes all our scientific theories, and any change models that can be applied to complex systems in the universe. It also seeks to discover, evolutionary developmental, or evo devo aspects of complexity evolution and development. That means learning to differentiate between those processes and events that are very likely to be universal in nature, happening the same way on all Earth-like planets, also called processes and events of complexity development, and those processes and events of complexity evolution that are very likely to be different on each planet. To understand the difference, think those processes and events that are developmental similarities and evolutionary differences among all living things on Earth. Both processes are key to life.

Universal foresight has traditionally been little-discussed by foresight practitioners. It sometimes gets lumped with global foresight, which is much more about our probable, possible, and preferred societal futures, rather than about what science and systems theory tells us about universe itself. That treatment is no longer adaptive. Why? Because of the new speed and power of accelerating change in all aspects of society. If societal acceleration is a developmental process, it will only get faster and more powerful for the rest of our lives, making it more and more central to our foresight work, whether we like it or not.

We’ll introduce two universal foresight models in this guide. The first model, exponential foresight (Chapter 2) makes clear that foresight practice today is very different from sixty years ago, at the start of the field. Today, we live with the widespread recognition that science and technology are getting exponentially better all the time, and that exponential growth is much more about the nature of the universe we live in than it is about human preference or creativity. As we’ll see, acceleration in special areas of science and technology happens almost every time humans apply their intelligence to solve human problems, independent of nation, politics, culture, or belief.

By paying close attention to those exponentials, our ability to help ourselves, our teams, and our clients is greatly improved. Conversely, if we ignore the exponentials, our foresight is ignorant and liable to disruption as a result. The second model, evo devo foresight (Chapter 3) heps us understand and differentiate between unpredictable and predictable futures, and between unique cases and universals. It also considers various types of exponential growth in society, what is more generally called accelerating change, as a universal process.

We’re beginning to recognize that the acceleration of complexity on Earth is very likely not just a human generated and controlled activity, it is also a universal evolutionary developmental process, something that happens on all Earth-like planets. That means it is better understood as something we can guide, but that we don’t fully control. Even though it would satisfy our egos to believe we do, that is actually a fiction, not a truth about the world we live in. As we begin to see some of the universal forces at work, we can better direct our limited energies, and produce much better strategic foresight as well.

As for the science aspects of universal foresight, we will assume you have a good lay scientific knowledge as a precondition to modern practice, and this guide won’t teach much science knowledge or methods. We will introduce many useful change models however. Chapter 8 covers several models currently used by practitioners. Most of those are for organizational foresight, but some are global and a few are universal in applicability.

Most universal change models are not yet science but rather topics discussed in complexity and systems theory, a mix of philosophy, complexity studies, and practice that seeks generalizable models for many types of complex adaptive systems.

As we will see, exponential foresight models have been around for over a century in simple form, and they have been getting increasingly popular and sophisticated in the last few decades. Evo devo foresight models have been around for at least as long in simple form. But in just the last few decades, various forms of evo devo thinking are finally becoming seriously applied across many scales of human systems. In my academic persona, I am one of a small group of scholars at Evo Devo Universe, an international research community doing its small part to try to advance that thinking and application.

Once you’ve been introduced to universal foresight, in whatever form you choose, your view of the universe, and your place and abilities in it, may forever be changed and improved. I also hope you’ll be induced to keep advancing your personal foresight practice not only in the traditional three domains, but within the emerging and very empowering universal foresight domain as well.

After our two-chapter tour of universal foresight, we then proceed to personal foresight, to demonstrate how dramatically better our individual lives can be with good foresight.

Next we’ll turn to global foresight, which is typically the most popular topic for people with a lay interest in the future. Reddit’s Futurology, for example, the largest group of amateur futurists on the planet, is almost entirely concerned with this domain.

Finally, our last chapters, and current bulk of the Guide, discuss organizational foresight, tools and techniques that foresight professionals use with their clients to better uncover and execute Three Ps futures, and improve the adaptiveness of organizations.

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