Chapter 3. Evo Devo Foresight: Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Seeing and Balancing Both Evolution and Development

In discussing the Three Ps, we noted the great value in seeing and balancing these three fundamental thinking types. We described the Eight Skills, and why rapid turning of that particular evo devo cycle, with the Three Ps at its heart, is so helpful to being adaptive.  We described twenty foresight specialties and a large set of methods that map roughly to the Eight Skills, to show the useful diversity of adaptive management.

We talked about the 95/5 rule, and why much more of the world looks evolutionary than developmental, but that even so, both chance and necessity are equally important to creating complexity, and our preferable futures. We explored how and why many practitioners still deny the probable future, in all its forms. We talked about the great value of “starting with certainty”, trying to see as much of the probable as we can, before we begin exploring possibilities, and mapping preferences.

We’ve discussed the idea that evo devo systems seek to maximize adaptive complexity, communication, and intelligence, and that they do this in an accelerating manner, at the leading edge, via pursuing the Eight Goals. We proposed the Eight Goals as a universal set of evo devo pairs of goals, drives, or values can be found in all replicating complex systems. We argued that the better we can see and study those goals in all evo devo systems, the better we can manage them in ourselves, our organizations and societies.

Privileging the Eight Goals is not to claim that intelligent systems don’t try to see and maximize many other goals or values. Certainly, the more intelligent and evolutionary the system becomes, the more it will be pursuing a great diversity of goals and subgoals. But some goals, like the Eight Goals, will be at the core of the system’s evo devo nature. Managing those will always be particularly strategically important.

Of all the lessons of Evo Devo Foresight that we can take into our practice, perhaps the most important, for most of us is better balancing the time we spend on evolutionary and developmental thinking. As we noted in Chapter 2, when we discussed antiprediction bias, the probable future is, in most organizations, by far the least used of the Three Ps foresight categories (possibilities, probabilities, and preferences). Many practitioners still deny that it exists, or is relevant to their work. Fortunately, as global science and technology advance, developmental foresight is growing, but it is doing so from a small current base of practitioners.

The rise of big data, predictive analytics, prediction markets, forecasting competitions and platforms, crowd foresight, and other practices bode well for growing this aspect of foresight practice. The more we see parts of STEEPS (Scientific, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political, and Social) events and processes that are forecastable and predictable, the better we will get at generating possibilities and preferences that take advantage of these probable futures.

Developmental foresight allows us to do less unproductive speculation on scenarios, strategies, and possibilities that have a very low probability of occurring, and we stop wasting our and our client’s time fighting trends that appear inevitable, and instead help them profit from those trends. We stop losing credibility by saying the future can’t be known, and we get busy figuring out more of the parts the future that are actually predictable, and guiding our clients toward preferences that take advantage of the growing set of known developmental trends and futures.

Timing, predicting both evolutionary emergences (in a rough envelope) and developmental ones (in a much narrower envelope), is often critical in business. Helping a client understand a process is developmental (predictable, irreversible, effectively unstoppable, in the long run) is one valuable service. But learning to measure and predict the actual rates of evolution and development, for relevant capabilities, products, and services, is another, perhaps even more valuable service, so that the client doesn’t mistake, as foresighter Paul Saffo would say, “a clear view for a short distance,” and launch a product or service before or after its ideal time.

Strategy, managing the preferable future, is also critical. If you are focusing on advancing only evolutionary or developmental goals in your strategy, you are very likely missing some of the processes you will need, and some of the key agendas motivating your clients and competitors, irrespective of whether they recognize those agendas consciously, and irrespective of their particular culture. We have to learn to balance those goals, to be better foresight practitioners.

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