Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

II. Personal Practice Challenges 

Before we say more about the global professional foresight community, this section introduces a starter set of personal practice challenges that are worth wrestling with every day when developing foresight for ourselves, our teams, and our clients. We’ll introduce several more personal practice challenges in Chapter 13 (Visions and Challenges), when we discuss common practice biases and mistakes and problematic social roles. We’ll also consider a set of community practice challenges facing our entire practitioner group, as we seek to grow and validate our field.

Foresight is too important an activity to delegate entirely to others. Experts and specialists can be of great help, but foresight practice belongs to all of us. Foresight is a way of feeling, thinking, and acting toward the future that every one of us deserves to get much better at, so we can greatly improve our ability to make a better world. In a world of increasing specialization, some things always remain our individual responsibilities, if we wish to remain successful in a complex, accelerating world. Adaptive foresight, and specifically the Three Ps, are among those things.

You might ask yourself how you presently fare with each of these challenges. Are you engaging them well? Are you neglecting any? Are there any we’ve missed? In life, there’s a saying that half of our battle is figuring out the right questions to ask, and the right fights to be engaged in. If you aren’t presently doing well or making advances in each of these areas in your daily practice, then strengthening your personal foresight capacity (Chapter 3), and developing a broader understanding of your profession, as we try to do in this Guide, may need to be higher priorities.

Of all the practice challenges, avoiding the Three Cardinal Sins of Foresight, underdiscovering probable futures, undercreating possible futures, and undersurveying preferable futures, may be the most important. We’ll explore that claim later with a prescientific model, Evo Devo Foresight, in Chapter 8.  All three practice challenges will be addressed many times in coming chapters, but we will focus most closely on the first at present, as discovering probable foresight is the task most often neglected by those who presently self-describe as futurists or foresight practitioners.

Over roughly the last thirty years, a schism has slowly developed between futurists and general future thinkers, who increasingly avoid probabilistic or predictive approaches, and forecasters, intelligence professionals, risk managers, economists, investors, scientists, and many other groups who anticipate all kinds of things in probabilistic terms, but who don’t currently consider themselves part of the global foresight community, even though they are.

This practitioner schism was much smaller at the start of our field in the 1970s, as Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), Jib Fowles Handbook of Futures Research (1978), Olaf Helmer’s Looking Forward (1983), and other still-great early texts make clear. Books like these take a truly comprehensive approach to all three foresight types, challenging foresighters to be researchers, quantitators, and forecasters first, alternative and uncertainty seekers second, and preference mappers and managers third.

But as social speed and complexity have increased since the 1970s, they have pushed every profession into greater specialization. In a mistake of overspecialization, many of our foresight conferences, academic training programs, and practitioner communities have increasingly neglected probabilistic and quantitative thinking, forecasting and prediction. For example, in 1982, J. Scott Armstrong founded the International Institute of Forecasters (IIF), to advance the practice of forecasting. But rather than embrace this as a new community central to our field, the main futurist conferences and foresight training programs let this and many other probabilistic foresight developments from the blue groups above grow up outside our borders. We increasingly drifted our work away from the quantitative roots of the field.

In years since, a culture of the “unpredictable future” has developed in some of our foresight training programs. This biased stance attracts imaginative and creative people who prefer that way of looking at the future, but it also alienates the critical quantitative and forecasting-oriented people that we also need in order to keep foresight training cognitively and skills-diverse. Once a non-quantitative, non-prediction culture emerges, it is hard to restore it to balance. The creatives want more creatives to associate with, and they tend to look at those who don’t think like them as “other”, and vice versa, for those in quantitative communities like the IIF. But if Toffler’s model is right, great foresight truly needs all three types of work to be done, by a large and cognitively diverse crowd.

The current schism must and will be fixed in coming years. This version of the Guide will thus discuss the First Cardinal Sin of foresight work, underdiscovering probable futures, in the most detail, as a small step toward eliminating that schism.

Showing 3 comments
  • Oleksiy Teselkin

    “Foresight is too important an activity to delegate entirely to…..” – all the paragraph repeated twice here.

    • Kevin Russell

      Fixed 🙂 Thanks for the help!

  • Oleksiy Teselkin

    I would add that quantitative prediction somehow got to be associated with the concept of planning, such as by trend extrapolation, “the serious stuff,” relegating the *possible* to design, art, science fiction and futurism, and the *preferable* to philosophy and politics. That’s why there is so little awareness of ‘foresight’ as a professional field unifying all three.

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