Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

Specialty Foresight Functions

We have said that strategic foresight is a complex, action-oriented activity, involving many cognitively diverse and specialty practices and perspectives in the organization. It’s time to look a little deeper at some of those specialties. This guide identifies Twenty Foresight Functions (foresight-related functional skills in organizations) as particularly important practices that firms use to navigate the future today. We will sometimes color them gold to distinguish them as key functions in this guide. We will fit these functions into a departmental model of the firm in Chapter 3, and present them as components of the Eight Skills in Chapter 5.

Horizon, California Highway

Horizon, California Highway

The Twenty Foresight Functions are: Intelligence, Learning & Development, Metrics, Ideation, Design, Innovation Management/R&D, Entrepreneurship, Forecasting, Investing, Risk Management, Law & Security, Strategy, Analysis, Planning, Product/Service Management, Marketing Management, Performance Management, Scorecards, Quality, and Change Management.

Each of these functions is used to generate a specific useful type of foresight in a great variety of organizations. Having basic proficiency in any one of them can be critical to solving a particular foresight problem, or even to keeping the firm alive. We could have chosen fewer functions to introduce you to, but the simpler the approach, the more rapidly we lose sight of how diverse, effective, and necessary foresight practice has become in the modern organization. These Twenty Functions aren’t the only places where organizational foresight is practiced, and we will mention other secondary functions in this guide. But we will argue that these twenty are a special set, balanced across the Eight Skills, and perhaps broad enough to represent the full spectrum of modern foresight practice.

Making foresight a conscious leadership priority in organizations of all types is among the greatest goals of our field. Once an appropriate level and variety of foresight is widely understood by organizational leaders as a key competitive advantage, and evidence for its value well understood, our field will be on a path to its maturity. Top practitioners of these Twenty Functions very often have C-level positions in many types of organizations and industries. But until our primary foresight professional associations also have C-level practitioners from all of these functions as leaders within our own ranks, and until an influential minority of leaders in all these functions also self-identify as foresight professionals, our field will remain underdeveloped. The leadership of top organizations will not recognize the foresight work they already do (“foresight by other names”), and the case for foresight as a leadership priority cannot be well made.

None of us will ever be experts in all of these functions, but each of us can seek out some specialty training to complement our general foresight knowledge. For each function we’ve named one Specialty Foresight Association below that is advancing professional practice in that function. Joining one or more of these associations at a time, in addition to a primary association, taking their online or in-person training, and attending their conferences will give you access to specialist foresight methods and knowledge that is often only lightly covered, if at all, in our still-developing primary associations. You will also make many new friendships and gain new practice opportunities.

Given their broad utility in foresight practice, learning the basics of all of these Twenty Functions is a very wise approach to professional development. Reading and publishing in their journals and other publications will also further the field and your professional distinction. Shifting your memberships among the specialty associations every few years, and picking up new certifications where helpful is a great way for foresight practitioners to do continuing education in our field. Such specialty training makes us much more valuable to our clients. Hopefully our primary foresight practice organizations will also develop much closer relationships with these specialty practice associations in coming years. Here are the associations:

One more practice specialty, Leadership, should also be mentioned here, so that we may recommend one of its associations for professional development. Like foresight, leadership is a “meta” specialty, coordinating all the specialties listed above and depending on all of them. We’ll briefly explore how leadership requires, yet also differs from and builds upon foresight, at the end of Chapter 3.

We think foresight educational programs should offer basic working knowledge of all of these Twenty Functions. To give less to our students is to shortchange their potential to create great and lasting foresight impact on their client’s problems. You don’t need to be proficient in all or even most of the functions to be a good foresight professional. But you should have basic knowledge of all of them, and be able to value and work with professionals who do have those skills, and recognize when a specialist from one of the functions can help solve a problem. The better your team is at navigating the functions, the better you’ll be at managing and leading foresight in your organization.

There are also specialty industry organizations that offer foresight knowledge and training that may be helpful to join, depending on your particular clients. The Institute of Management Consultants, Investment Management Consultants Association, National Speakers Association, National Venture Capital Association, and Police Futurists International are a few examples. See Chapter 11 (Leaders) for more.

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