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 knowledge and practice domains, personal, organizational, global, and universal foresight. We call these the POGU Foresight Tetrad. Experience and practice in each of these domains is often a prerequisite to good practice in the remaining domains. All four are important.
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.
Teaching 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)
Notice that we use the term Global as a stand in for both national and societal foresight. In our modern, highly interdependent world, all societal foresight should be done in relation to all the other nations, taking into account each nation’s unique competitive and cooperative adavantages and disadvantages. Societal foresight, and nationalism, are now fully subservient to global trends and concerns. Leaders who don’t see that are working off of old models that are no longer adaptive.
There is also a fourth, commonly overlooked, primary foresight practice domain:
- Universal foresight (science, complexity studies, and systems theories of change, including our models of culturally universal values and purpose)
Foresight University seeks to do three things:
- Offer high-quality training in personal, organizational, global, and universal (POGU) foresight and leadership,
- Help leaders and entrepreneurs maximize their positive impact, and
- Support the growing global foresight community.
Personal foresight is covered in Chapter 2 and partly in 3. It is a brief introduction to a very important practice domain. Like all of these domains, the more we practice our personal foresight, with humility, dedication, openmindedness, and quality feedback, the better we become.
Organizational foresight is covered in Chapters 3 through 6, in our closing chapter, Chapter 12 (Visions and Challenges), and in the first appendix (Peer Advice). The Three Ps and the Eight Skills (The Do Loop) are our core practice models in this domain. These models were developed for organizational foresight, but they can be used in all four domains.
Global foresight, is covered in Chapters 7 through 10. It includes societal issues, challenges, opportunities, and trends. It is also covered in the second and third appendices (Leaders and Resources), including the global foresight reading list in Appendix 3. Chapter 6 covers several change and control models currently used by practitioners. Most of those are for organizational foresight, but some are global and a few are universal in applicability. Reddit’s Futurology, the largest group of amateur futurists on the planet, is primarily concerned with this domain.
Universal foresight is covered in both Chapters 7 (Acceleration) and 11 (Evo Devo Foresight). It includes all our scientific theories, and any change models that can be applied to complex systems in the universe. Chapter 7 introduces a fascinating phenomenon, continual accelerating change, and looks at it from a universal perspective. Accelerating change is both unpredictable in specifics yet astonishingly predictable as a set of general exponential and superexponential trends. Seeing these universal, global, and industry trends, becoming accelaware, is a first step to better future thinking. More specifically, learning how to generate accurate exponential foresight for our clients, and distinguish between value and hype, has become a critical skill of modern foresight practitioners and leaders.
While the POGU Foresight Tetrad is the best way to remember the four primary foresight domains, as this allows us to move mentally in scale from small to large, when we consider normative, or values-based foresight, the best approach can be to start with universal topics, then move to other domains. Beginning with a universal approach allows us to consider working ideas and hypotheses about universal processes and values, and then apply those values to ourselves and our organizations. We’ll offer some potentially universal models in this Guide, including the model of evolutionary development. This model is also called evo devo, or most simply, ED in the Guide. We’ll use this particular universal model to derive Five Goals (processes, purposes) and Ten Values. This is our preferred normative foresight model, and we will apply these goals and values to the topics of individual empowerment, organizational adaptiveness, and social progress.
Chapter 11 (Evo Devo Foresight) is our most general model for how change happens, and the constant tension between unpredictable and predictable processes in all complex systems. Becoming proficient in evo devo foresight means learning to see a small subset of processes and events that are very likely to be universal in nature, happening the same way in all successful individuals, organizations and cultures on Earth, and all Earth-like planets, we can call such processes and events developmental, and seeing them is generating developmental foresight. At the same time, evo devo foresight asks us to develop our evolutionary foresight as well. We need to see that much larger set of diversity-creating processes and events of complexity evolution that are very likely to be unpredictably different, in successful individuals, firms, and cultures on Earth, and on all Earth-like planets. Both processes are key to life.
Universal foresight has traditionally been little-discussed by foresight practitioners. It was traditionally 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, and our universal goals, purposes, and values. 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 predictable and developmental process, due to the particular structure of our universe, as it now appears to be, 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 particularly valuable universal foresight models in this Guide. The first model, exponential foresight (Chapter 7) 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 11) helps us understand and differentiate between unpredictable and predictable futures, and between unique cases and universals. It also considers accelerating change as a universal process, placing exponential foresight in a larger context. When we better understand the universal environment in which we live, and the processes of change that appear generally predictable and the ones that are not, we gain an appropriately Big Picture perspective on our future.
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 likely to happen 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. But as we begin to see some of the real universal forces at work, we can better direct our limited energies to the creativity, experiments, and bets that best suit us, as individuals, firms, and societies, and produce much better strategic foresight as well.
As for the science aspects of universal foresight, we will assume you have a college-level lay scientific knowledge as a precondition to modern practice, and this guide won’t teach much science knowledge or methods. 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. In the last few decades, various forms of evo devo thinking are also becoming seriously applied, across many scales of human systems. I am co-founder of a small international research community, Evo Devo Universe, working to advance evo devo thinking and application. If you are interested in this topic, and a publishing scholar, we welcome you to join us.
Once you’ve been introduced to universal foresight,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 foresight practice not only in the traditional three domains, but within the emerging and very empowering universal foresight domain as well.