Twenty Specialty Practices of Strategic Foresight
Based on an analysis of both management and foresight literature, we propose that Twenty Specialty Practices are especially important in helping modern teams and organizations to navigate the future. We will occasionally color these specialty practices gold to help you think of them as an interdependent group. To help you better see their value in context, we will fit these twenty specialties into a departmental model of the firm in Chapter 5 (Career Options), and consider them as components of the Eight Skills in Chapter 7 (The Do Loop). The Twenty Specialties, in alpha order, are:
- Accounting & Intangibles,
- Alternatives & Scenarios,
- Analysis & Decision Support,
- Auditing & Change Management,
- Benchmarking & Quality,
- Data Science & Machine Learning,
- Entrepreneurship & Intrapreneurship,
- Facilitation & Gaming,
- Forecasting & Prediction,
- Human Resources & Performance Management,
- Ideation & Design,
- Innovation & Research & Development,
- Intelligence & Knowledge Management,
- Investing & Finance,
- Law & Security,
- Learning & Development,
- Marketing & Sales,
- Management & Leadership,
- Risk Management & Insurance, and
- Strategy & Planning.
The Twenty Specialties is our best current model of the full scope of modern strategic foresight. Technically, these are actually twenty pairs of specialties, each of which is closely related. The world is a complex place, and adaptive foresight requires a diverse set of specialty skills. How many of these are you presently familiar with? How many do you use in your work?
We could have chosen fewer specialties to introduce you to in this Guide, but to do so would be to lose sight of how diverse, effective, and necessary foresight practice has become. The Twenty Specialties are not the only places where organizational foresight is practiced, but they are our best first draft of the most important ones. As you will see, they are balanced across the Eight Skills, and are diverse enough to represent the full spectrum of modern foresight practice.
Fortunately, almost all of these specialties now has formal practice communities, and we’ll introduce some leading ones below. Proficiency in any of these specialties can be critical to solving a foresight problem, or even to keeping a firm alive. If any of these specialties are relevant to your current challenges, and you are missing them, the adaptiveness of your firm’s plans and actions will surely suffer as a result.
Peter Bishop, past director of the U. Houston MS in Strategic Foresight says that strategic foresight can be most simply defined as anything an individual, team or organization does before they engage in strategic planning or action. Therefore, if you or your team skip thinking about the other nineteen practices above prior to engaging in strategy and planning, the twentieth practice above, and don’t gauge their relevancy to your current challenges and opportunities, you are not yet doing strategic foresight work, in our view.
The field of strategic planning was first taught at Harvard in the 1930s. The field of professional strategic foresight was born in the mid-1940’s, with the funding of the first permanent foresight think tanks, RAND and SRI, immediately after World War II. These first modern foresight practitioners were dominated by engineers and scientists, and had a probability and forecasting focus. Their main customers were government and defense clients. By the 1960s, several leading management consultancies began to permanently do professional foresight work, primarily serving business clients. These included the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Institute for the Future (IFTF). The 1960s also gave us our first university courses on foresight, and our first general and academic foresight communities, like the World Future Society (WFSF) and World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF).
The first graduate foresight program was originally called “Future Studies”, and began at the U. of Houston in 1975. In the forty-plus years since, graduate strategic foresight programs have slowly expanded around the world. There are presently twenty-two MS or PhD foresight programs, by our count, and a smaller number of foresight certificate programs. Most expose their students to the majority of the above specialties, in some fashion, but none yet teach them all.
Foresight University’s priority is to get our Guide into many more academic courses in business, policy, and strategy around the world, as a primary or supplementary text. It is also our priority to influence all the existing academic and executive foresight programs to include essential thinking and methods from all Twenty Specialties in their curriculum. Only then will foresight education be fully relevant to the modern business and organizational communities, in our view.
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. Ideally, top practitioners of these Twenty Specialties will have C-level positions in our organizations. But until that happens, and 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, as “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 specialties, but each of us can seek out some specialty training to complement our general foresight knowledge. For each function we’ve named one Foresight Specialty 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 foresight 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 Specialties 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 whenever they may be helpful is a great way for foresight practitioners to do appropriately diverse 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. We’ve focused this list on communities oriented to corporate clients, though many of these specialties have communities or workgroups oriented to government, defense, nonprofits, education, individuals, and other clients as well.
In alpha order, here again are the Twenty Specialties of strategic foresight, and some of their leading practitioner communities:
- Accounting & Intangibles – Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). Since 1919. The leading association for cost accounting, financial planning, and decision support, the most important metrics for any for-profit firm. Annual Conference, CMA certification. Strategic Finance; Assessing intangible assets and liabilities is done in specialties like management accounting, marketing, analysis, and strategy. Many intangibles are not easily measured, or even seen. We need surveys, focus groups, and other tools to track and analyze intangible variables, like morale, reputation, and customer satisfaction. The National Customer Service Association (NCSA) is a leading practice community for customer satisfaction. For intangibles in general, see Hubbard’s How to Measure Anything (2014).
- Alternatives & Scenarios – Association of Professional Futurists (APF). Since 2002. Our leading strategic foresight practitioner community. Good business focus. Regular Gatherings. This community is particularly oriented to both exploring possible futures (alternatives & scenarios) and envisioning preferable futures (facilitation, stakeholder analysis, etc.). They are less focused, at present, on forecasting, prediction markets, and other methods of describing probable futures.
- Analysis & Decision Support – Institute for Operations Research and the Mgmt Sciences (INFORMS). Since 1995. Advancing operations research, mgmt sciences, and data analytics. Annual Conference and Business Analytics Conference. Many Chapters. Publish thirteen journals; European Working Group on Decision Support Systems (EWG-DSS). Annual international conference on Decision Support System Technology. Modeling, expert systems, data visualization, GIS, collaborative decisionmaking and support.
- Auditing & Change Management – Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Since 1941. Certifications and conferences. Auditing is a critical skill that tells leaders if their accounting and metrics are accurate. Many firms neglect it; Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP). Since 2009. Standardizing and promoting the discipline of change management, which seeks to diagnose problems and turn around firms. Seven Chapters. Annual conference (900 attendees).
- Benchmarking & Quality – Benchmarking, or determining best practices (“quality”, at the firm level) by looking at the competitive environment, is a key step in organizational strategy. The Benchmarking Network (BN) lists a variety of industry benchmarking associations. A good starter is the Balanced Scorecard Institute (BSI). Since 1997. Balanced scorecards are a well-respected benchmarking tool. Certifications. 5,000 practitioners; American Society for Quality (ASQ). Since 1946. Promoting the practice of performance feedback and continual quality improvement (TQM, Lean Six Sigma, etc.). 80K members. Various certifications and conferences. Eight magazines and journals.
- Data Science & Machine Learning – Open Data Science Community (OSDC). 140K members. One of the largest conferences in data science, Open Data Science (Asia, Europe, and NA). Data science includes predictive analytics (PA), and the rapidly-improving field of machine learning (ML, aka “AI”). OSDC runs an Accelerate AI Summit, for business professionals, and an AI Learning Accelerator community, focused on predictive analytics and machine learning; Digital Analytics Association (DAA). 20K members. Produce the eMetrics, Text Analytics, and Digital Analytics Summits. Predictive Analytics World (another group) is the leading cross-industry event for predictive analytics professionals.
- Entrepreneurship & Intrapreneurship – Founder Institute (FI). Since 2009. Teaching founders to do internal or external startups. Also Lean Startup Circles. Since 2009. Communities to implement Eric Ries’ Lean Startup; Intrapreneurship is a specialty that facilitates disrupting one’s current product and service mix from within, creating ideal environments for self-funded startups and spinouts. It gets harder the larger the firm, and is a specialty that deserves its own professional association. It doesn’t yet have one, but the Intrapreneurship Conference is a step in that direction. See Owens and Fernandez’s The Lean Enterprise: How Corps Can Innovate Like Startups (2014) for key intrapreneurship practice tips.
- Facilitation & Gaming – International Association of Facilitators (IAF). Since 1994. Group processes, participatory environments, consensus facilitation, conflict resolution, KM. Offer certified professional facilitator programs and IAF endorsed training programs. Members in 65 countries. IAFNAC is annual North American conference; North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA). Game-based simulation and learning. Physical and digital “serious games”, strategy games, wargames, gamestorming. Annual conference.
- Forecasting & Prediction – International Institute of Forecasters (IIF). Since 1981. Advancing forecasting, short and long-term, quantitative and judgmental, as a multidisciplinary field of research and practice. Annual Internat’l Symposium on Forecasting, training Workshops. Publishes Foresight: The Journal of Applied Forecasting and Internat’l Journal of Forecasting; Prediction Markets do not yet have a dedicated association. Data Science/PA is the closest practitioner community at present. The Journal of Prediction Markets is an open access journal covering this emerging field since 2007. Also see Tetlock and Gardner’s Superforecasting (2015) for best practices with this powerful new form of collective foresight.
- Human Resources & Performance Management – Society for Human Resource Mgmt (SHRM). Since 1948. Promotes HR (people ops, analytics, labor mgmt.) as a field, via education, certification, lobbying, and networking. 275K members. HR Magazine, others. Annual conference; Performance management is a specialty of HR and organizational development that focuses on firm, team, and employee performance. The KPI Institute (KPII) is a leading practitioner community. They offer certifications in many management practices, including Benchmarking (best practices), Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), a subset of benchmarking focused on firm performance, and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which empower employees to set their own performance objectives, in a bottom-up manner, and help each other achieve them.
- Ideation & Design – There is no professional association yet for Ideation Management, a critical precursor process to innovation, involving articulating, sizing, and prioritizing customer and firm problems, incentivizing solutions (with prizes, bounties, tournaments, reputation, culture), and refining and prioritizing the best ideas. Fortunately there are now several good Idea Management/Evaluation Platforms, and some large online technical solver communities like InnoCentive. See Terwiesch and Ulrich’s Innovation Tournaments (2009), for good practices. A partly-related community is the American Creativity Association (ACA). Since 1990. Creativity, problem solving, ideation theory, tools, methods. They run an Annual Conference. Non-associated journals: Creativity Research Journal and Journal of Creative Behavior; AIGA: The Professional Association for Design (AIGA). Since 1914. Product, service, and environmental design is another key foresight speciality, focused on creating better futures, typically in a hands on, iterative manner. Annual Design Competitions, Chapters, Student Groups, Professional Dev. Non-associated magazine: Wallpaper.
- Innovation & Research & Development – International Society of Professional Innovation Mgmt (ISPIM). Since 1983. R&D leaders, industrialists, institutions, and consultants in innovation mgmt. Runs Regional ISPIM Conferences. Publishes Internat’l Journal of Innovation Management; Research and Development Management Association (RADMA). RADMA presently does not offer a conference. Publish the academic and business journal R&D Management.
- Intelligence & Knowledge Management – Collective Intelligence Academic Community (CIAC). Annual conference. Digital CI platforms, human computer interaction, crowdsourcing, crowdsolving, crowdfunding, and crowdfounding, group incentives and dynamics; Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP). Since 1986. Helps professionals in competitive intelligence (legal and ethical information gathering and analysis). Runs an Annual Conference and Regional Summits. Bimonthly CI Magazine; The Knowledge Management Professional Society (KMPro). The largest knowledge management practice group. It offers certifications and training. KM is another field still early in practice development. Most organizations don’t even have good wikis or incentives to capture and refine their often-deep organizational knowledge.
- Investing & Finance – CFA Institute (CFAI). Since 1946. Global association of 110K investment professionals. Offers Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and other certifications. Conferences, webinars, and events. Financial Analysts Journal, CFA Institute Magazine. Alternative: American Association of Individual Investors (AAII). 150K members. AAII Journal, Conference; There are many specialty finance practitioner communities. One for entrepreneurs is the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA). Global events and platforms for entrepreneurs, angel investors, and venture capitalists.
- Law & Security – American Bar Association (ABA). Since 1878. For lawyers & non-lawyers. Improving legal profession, advancing the rule of law. 400K members. Advocacy groups. ABA Journal, >100 specialty periodicals, many specialty law conferences; Security Industry Association (SIA). Since 1969. Covers both physical and info security (InfoSec, Cybersecurity). DEF CON is the best known “hacker” convention. There are a plethora of others. Find a security association focused on your industry and clients, covering both physical and information security, and learn best practices.
- Learning & Development – Association for Talent Development (ATD). Since 1945. Leading professional association for workplace training, learning and development (L&D). Three annual conferences, L&D certifications, local chapters. T+D Magazine. Workplace training is being greatly empowered today by EdTech startups and behavioral science.
- Marketing & Sales – American Marketing Association (AMA). Since 1937. Advancing the practice and scholarship of marketing, including advertising, customer modeling, metrics. 30K members. Certification & training. Marketing News, seven journals. Many conferences; National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP). Since 1991. Certification and training in effective sales trends, strategies, and customer acquisition techniques. For some examples of best practices for foresight professionals, see Hanan’s Consultative Selling, 8th Ed (2011) and Rackham’s inspirational classic SPIN Selling (1988).
- Management & Leadership – American Management Association (AMA). Since 1923. Full-spectrum training in firm, product, service, and project leadership, analysis, comm., IT, marketing, sales, PR, human resources, finance, project mgmt. Books, papers, podcasts, webinars, webcasts, etc.; Project Management Institute (PMI), and PMP Certification. 270 chapters; International Leadership Association (ILA). Since 1999. Advancing leadership practices. ILA Global Conference. Publishes Journal of Leadership Studies, Leadership Excellence. There are also many specialized leadership development programs, publications, and communities for almost every industry, and for most of the specialties listed above.
- Risk Management & Insurance – Risk Management Society (RIMS). Since 2000. Global leader in risk mgmt. practices (insurance, finance, accounting, legal, IT, HR, etc). Annual RIMS Conference and Enterprise Risk Mgmt. Conf. Global Chapters. Risk Management. There are many specialty insurance practitioner communities. American Insurance Association (AIA) is the leading trade association for big insurance providers. Since 1866. NAIFA represents insurance and financial advisors.
- Strategy & Planning – Association for Strategic Planning (ASP). Since 1999. Advancing strategy and planning development and deployment for business, nonprofits, and govt. Annual Conference, certificate programs. Sixteen Chapters. Strategic planning resources; American Planning Association (APA). Since 1978. Advancing the art and science of urban and regional planning. Runs American Inst of Certified Planners. Publishes Planning magazine, Journal of the American Planning Association.
We should note now that some of the Twenty Specialties, most particularly Management and Leadership, can also be thought of as meta-specialties, like foresight. For example, successful management requires at least short term foresight, and many other skills, which can be found in any good text on strategic management. Successful leadership usually requires longer term foresight, and additional skills and personal qualities besides. Our primary aim is to help you become a great foresight practitioner, but we seek to start you on the path to becoming a good manager and leader as well. To that end, we introduce the concept of adaptive leadership at the end of Chapter 7 (The Do loop).
Again, we think foresight educational programs should offer basic working knowledge of all of these Twenty Specialties. To give less to our students will limit their potential to help their client with their problems. You don’t need to be proficient in all or even most of these specialties to be a good foresight professional. But you should have basic knowledge of all of them, recognize when a specialist may help you solve a problem, and be able to work with them well. The better your team is at navigating these specialties, 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 this page in Appendix 2 (Leaders) for more.