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 (POGU) foresight. We call these the Foresight Tetrad. Having some 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 the faster the world goes, the more foresight professionals must understand and use all four of these domains well if they are to be both strategic and adaptive with their clients. Each of the Four Domains has something valuable to contribute to the Three Ps, to better anticipation, creation, and management of the future.
Teaching all four of these domains is the founding mission of Foresight University, our educational startup conducting workshops in strategic foresight, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Abbreviations for Foresight University that we will use throughout the Guide are Foresight U, and more simply, 4U,(“four you”). This last abbreviation can be taken to have at least four meanings.
First, 4U signifies the “fore” (ahead) concept in foresight, the key mental practice we want to grow and professionalize. Second, it says our social enterprise exists for you, not us. 4U is 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 the Foresight Tetrad. Fourth, 4U avoids the acronym FU, which Fordham University and others struggle with, for understandable reasons :).
Three of the POGU foresight practice domains are commonly recognized. In a bit more detail, they are:
- Personal foresight (how we approach our personal futures, and our personality, goals, emotion, cognition, habits, relationships, family)
- Organizational foresight (how our teams approach group, team, company, institutional futures)
- Global foresight (how we collectively approach our national, social, economic, political, global, environmental futures)
The term Global includes both national and societal foresight. In our highly interdependent world, all national foresight should be done in relation to global society, taking into account each societies’ competitive and cooperative advantages and disadvantages. Splitting National and Societal no longer makes sense, as we are now one global, digitally, economically, and culturally interdependent global supersociety, whether we recognize it or not. Reddit’s Futurology, the largest group of amateur futurists on the planet, is primarily concerned with the global foresight domain. It’s the set of topics we usually like to argue about most.
There is also a fourth, commonly overlooked foresight practice domain:
- Universal foresight (how we approach science, complexity studies, and systems theories of change, including our models of culturally universal values and purpose)
Personal foresight is covered in Chapter 2 and partly in 3. It is a brief introduction to a very big topic. 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 our 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 practice 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 a global foresight reading list in Appendix 3. Chapter 6 covers several change and control models currently used by practitioners. Most of those models are for organizational foresight, but some are global and a few are universal in applicability.
Universal foresight is covered in both Chapters 7 (Acceleration) and 11 (Evo Devo Foresight). It includes all our scientific theories and systems models, and philosophies of how complex systems operate in the universe. Chapter 7 introduces a centrally important but scientifically poorly studied phenomenon, accelerating change, and looks at it from a universal perspective. Accelerating change is both unpredictable in specifics yet surprisingly predictable as a set of general exponential and superexponential trends. Seeing these universal, global, and industry trends, becoming accelaware, is a key step to better future thinking in our modern world. Learning how to generate accurate exponential foresight for our clients, and distinguish between value creation and hype, has become a critical skill for today’s foresight practitioners and leaders.
While POGU is the best way to remember the Foresight Tetrad is this acronym allows us to move mentally in scale from small to large, when we need to consider normative, or values-based foresight, the best approach is often to start in reverse (eg, engaging in a “UGOP” foresight process) thinking first about what science and cultural universals have to tell us about good values, goals, and progress, and then move downward through the tetrad into increasingly smaller and more local domains.
Beginning our values and goals thinking with a universal approach allows us to consider intuitions and hypotheses about universal values and processes, and then to seek to apply those universals to ourselves and our organizations. This is what great leaders tell us when they say that all good outcomes begin with good ethics, empathy, and character. The more universal those are, in all of us, the better chance we and our organizations have to succeed.
We’ll offer some potentially universal models for these topics in this Guide, and tie many of them to the living-systems-based model of evolutionary development. This model is also called evo devo, or most simply, ED in the Guide. We’ll use this universal model to derive Five Goals (processes, purposes) and Ten Values that seem like good candidates for being found universally in all our most complex adaptive systems. These goals and values are our preferred normative foresight model, and we will briefly apply them in various places in the Guide to the topics of individual empowerment, organizational adaptiveness, and social progress.
Exponential and Evo Devo Foresight
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. 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.
- 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. 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 special processes and events developmental. Seeing them is generating developmental foresight. At the same time, evo devo foresight asks us to develop our evolutionary foresight as well. In every context, we must strive 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, the predictable and the unpredictable, and a continual process of selection and feedback, are key ways that life stays adaptive on Earth.
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.
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 due to the new speed and power of accelerating change in all aspects of society. If certain forms of societal, scientific, and technological acceleration are a predictable and developmental process, due to the particular structure of our universe, they will only get faster and more powerful for the rest of our lives, making the need to use them well increasingly central to our foresight work, whether we like it or not.
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 the 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 general models for many types of complex adaptive systems.
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 hope that our treatment of this topic motivates you to keep advancing your practice, not only in the traditional three foresight domains, but within the neglected yet very important universal foresight domain as well.