Professional Foresight – An Adaptive Definition
One step forward in the growth of our field is coming up with better definitions of what foresight is, and who engages in it. Our field needs to learn to recognize all the powerful parts of itself as it grows up, so we can more actively share and compare our methods, and collaborate on foresight problems. This is an exciting time for strategic foresight, as our leading professional organizations are all searching for new and more inclusive definitions of our field.
We’ve already introduced the Three Ps, Anticipation, Innovation, and Strategy as the core foresight types. But before we can do foresight, we must do careful learning about the relevant past and present. Learning is actually preparation for foresight, but it is so important to good foresight output that we must consider it a core foresight practice skill. No one can build good foresight without good models of the past (hindsight) and the present (insight). Practitioners that don’t start with research prior to producing new foresight are creating it based on old models and outdated information, a very dangerous place to be. For these reasons, learning and the Three Ps are commonly grouped together, and we call them the Four Foresight Skills in this Guide.
Learning and the Three Ps give us the core of foresight practice, but they aren’t the whole of the story. All successful professional foresight depends on a four step Learn-See-Do-Review decision cycle, which we call the Do loop. To the right are the Four Steps (four stages) of this loop in graphic form.
Step 2, “Seeing”, and the three classic ways to see, the Three Ps, is what we normally think of as of foresight. But as cognitive science and ecological psychology tell us in the perception-decision-action cycle, one of the theories on which the Guide is based, foresight has little value if it is not preceded by learning (understanding the relevant past and present), and not tied to action, which must include review of (feedback on) the consequences of that action.
To be adaptive, all living things cycle continuously through the entire Do loop, with learning, foresight, action, and feedback. This is the only way useful foresight can emerge. If our foresight is not tied to action, we’re just telling stories, not practicing strategic foresight. That means all four steps are part of the real-world foresight process, with the See step representing the foresight professional’s core skills, and the other three steps representing key supporting skills that we must now discuss. Just as the See step can be split into three skills (probable, possible, and preferable futures), we will see in Chapter 4 that the Do step also depends on three key skills (execution, influence, and relating), with one additional skill each for the learning and reviewing steps.
The Four Steps of the Do loop can thus be represented as Eight Skills, which can be split into Four Foresight Skills and Four Action Skills, which we propose as a minimum viable model of adaptive foresight practice. To really help our clients, we need to talk about all Eight Skills in the Do loop, and the cyclic relationship between foresight and action.
We will continue to color the three core foresight skills in blue, green, and purple as before, and color the five supporting skills in red, to remind the reader that all eight skills are critical to foresight practice. All organizations must learn, use and master all eight of these skills on their executive teams if they wish to stay adaptive. Skipping any one of these skills, for too long, will eventually undo the firm. All are necessary for long-term survival. This is a strong claim, and we’ll try to defend it throughout the Guide.
The Do loop forms the basis of a second, more adaptive definition of a foresight professional, which we consider in the next section.