Four Domains of Adaptive Foresight
Adaptive foresight, which we will shortly define as strategic foresight plus adaptive management, is not only centered on the Three Ps of future thinking, it also requires a basic competence in four fundamental knowledge and practice domains. These are the domains of personal, organizational, global, and universal (POGU) foresight. We’ll refer to these as the Foresight Tetrad in this Guide. Good foresight practice in any of these domains always requires some experience and practice in all four of the other remaining domains. Good practitioners need basic competency in, and regular experience, with all of these domains. Each of the Four Domains has something valuable to contribute to the Three Ps, to better anticipation, creation, and management of the future.
People who are attracted to thinking in one of these domains may not often be aware of, or enjoy practicing, in any or all of the others. If you have a bias or weakness in any of these domains, it makes sense to take steps to improve your abilities in those domains, and to build partnerships and teams that will counter your weak areas. As we’ll see, the faster the world goes, the all foresight professionals must understand and use all four domains well if they are to be both strategic and adaptive for themselves and with their clients.
Teaching all four of these domains is the founding mission of Foresight University, our startup offering talks and workshops in strategic foresight, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Abbreviations for Foresight University that we will use throughout the Guide are Foresight U, and more simply, 4U,(“four you”).
Three of the POGU foresight practice domains are commonly recognized. In a bit more detail, they are:
- Personal foresight (how we approach our personal futures, and our personality, goals, emotion, cognition, habits, relationships, family)
- Organizational foresight (how our teams approach group, team, company, institutional futures)
- Global foresight (how we collectively approach our national, social, economic, political, global, environmental futures)
Personal foresight is covered in Chapter 2 and partly in 3 of the Guide. We offer a brief introduction to a very big and important topic. Like all of these domains, the more we practice our personal foresight, with humility, dedication, open mindedness, and quality feedback, the better practitioners we become.
Organizational foresight is covered in Chapters 3 through 6, and in our closing chapter, Chapter 12 (Visions and Challenges). We also address it in our first appendix (Peer Advice). The Three Ps the Four Ps (to be discussed in the next section) and the Eight Skills (The Do Loop) are our core practice models in this domain. We developed these practice models for organizational foresight, but we will see that they can be used well in all four practice domains.
Global foresight, is covered in Chapters 7 through 10 of the Guide. It includes trends, cycles, models, societal issues, challenges, opportunities. It is also covered in the second and third appendices (Leaders and Resources), including an introductory global foresight reading list in Appendix 3. Chapter 6 covers several change and control models currently used by practitioners. Most of those models are for organizational foresight, but some are global and a few are universal in applicability.
The term Global includes both national and societal foresight. In our highly interdependent world, splitting National and Societal foresight domains no longer makes sense. All national foresight is today just one facet of our emerging global society, and it must take into account each societies’ current competitive and cooperative advantages and disadvantages. We are now one global, digitally, economically, and culturally interdependent global supersociety, whether we recognize it or not. Reddit’s Futurology, the largest group of amateur futurists on the planet, is primarily concerned with the global foresight domain. It’s the set of topics we usually like to argue about most.
There is also a fourth, commonly overlooked foresight practice domain:
- Universal foresight (how we approach science, complexity studies, and systems theories of change, including our models of culturally universal values and purpose)
Universal foresight is covered mainly in Chapters 7 (Acceleration) and 11 (Evo Devo Foresight) of the Guide. The universal perspective includes all our scientific theories, models, and philosophies of how complex systems operate in the universe. Chapter 7 introduces a critically important, yet poorly studied phenomenon, accelerating change, and considers its implications for our future. Accelerating processes of information production and technological change are often unpredictable in specifics yet surprisingly predictable as a set of general exponential and superexponential trends. Becoming accelaware, seeing accelerating processes in special areas of Science and Technology, and understanding their impact on Economics, Environment, Politics, Culture, Organizations, and People (the STEEPCOP future scanning categories, to be discussed later) is a key first step to better future thinking in our modern world. Such work allows us to generate accurate exponential foresight for our clients, seeing the risks and opportunities that these accelerating changes offer to firms and individuals, in every industry.
Universal foresight is also the foundation of normative, or values-based foresight. When we think about what lifelong values we should have as leaders, and the largest meaning of what we do, it is helpful to move through the POGU Foresight Tetrad in reverse (eg, engaging in a “UGOP” foresight process). We should think first, and look to our communities for guidance, about what science and philosophy (the Universal perspective) and cultural comparisons (the Global perspective) appear to tell us about good goals, values, morals, and the nature of social progress. Then we should consider the implications of those apparent universal goals and values our for Organizations mission, vision, and goals. Finally, we can think through the implications of those goals and values for ourselves Personally, as leaders and self-leaders. This is what great leaders tell us when they say that all good outcomes begin with the right mindset, which includes good ethics, empathy, and character. The more we internalize truly universal values, moral codes and processes, the better chance we and our organizations have to succeed.
For example, Apple, Inc., a fantastically successful innovator, had the following mission statement under Steve Jobs (1955-2011): “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.” Under Tim Cook, circa 2014, they added: “We want to leave the world better than we found it.” Steve was not a philanthropist, which was a personal character flaw (we all have them). He believed that the best way to improve the world was to make better tools for people. It was a very focused vision, but it wasn’t complete. In our modern highly-interdependent world, we are increasingly recognizing that those who accrue great wealth also accrue great responsibilities to their societies, who enabled that wealth. The modern Apple, with a view toward achieving social progress, clearly has a wider vision, and a more universal set of values, and is the better for it.
We’ll offer some potentially universal models for values and goals in this Guide, and we will tie the majority of them to the living-systems-based model of evolutionary development. This model is also called evo devo, or most simply, ED in the Guide. We’ll use this universal model to derive Five Goals (processes, purposes) and Ten Values that seem like good candidates for being found universally in all our most complex adaptive systems, on any Earth-like planet. These goals and values are our preferred normative foresight model, and we will briefly apply them in various places in the Guide to the topics of individual empowerment, organizational adaptiveness, and social progress.
Exponential and Evo Devo Foresight
We’ll introduce two particularly valuable universal foresight models in this Guide.
- The first model, exponential foresight (Chapter 7) makes clear that foresight practice today is very different from sixty years ago, at the start of the field. Today, we live with the widespread recognition that science and technology are getting exponentially better all the time, and that the process of exponential growth as much driven by special features of the universe we live in as it is by human preference or creativity. Both drivers are important. As we’ll see, acceleration in special areas of science and technology happens almost every time humans apply their intelligence to solve human problems, independent of nation, politics, culture, or belief. By paying close attention to those exponentials, our ability to help ourselves, our teams, and our clients is greatly improved. Conversely, if we ignore the exponentials, our foresight is ignorant and liable to disruption as a result. We’re beginning to recognize that the acceleration of complexity on Earth is very likely not just a human-generated and controlled activity, it is also a universal evolutionary developmental process, something likely to happen on all Earth-like planets. That means it is better understood as something we can guide, but that we don’t fully control. Even though it would satisfy our egos to believe we do, that is actually a fiction, not a truth about the world we live in. But as we begin to see some of the real universal forces at work, we can better direct our limited energies to the creativity, experiments, and bets that best suit us, as individuals, firms, and societies, and produce much better strategic foresight as well.
- The second model, evo devo foresight (Chapter 11) helps us understand and differentiate between unpredictable and predictable futures, and between unique cases and universals. It also considers accelerating change as a universal process, placing exponential foresight in a larger context. When we better understand the universal environment in which we live, and the processes of change that appear generally predictable and the ones that are not, we gain an appropriately Big Picture perspective on our future. Becoming proficient in evo devo foresight means learning to see a small subset of processes and events that are very likely to be universal in nature, happening the same way in all successful individuals, organizations and cultures on Earth, and all Earth-like planets. We can call such special processes and events developmental. Seeing them is generating developmental foresight. At the same time, evo devo foresight asks us to develop our evolutionary foresight as well. In every context, we must strive to see that much larger set of diversity-creating processes and events of complexity evolution that are very likely to be unpredictably different, in successful individuals, firms, and cultures on Earth, and on all Earth-like planets. Both processes, the predictable and the unpredictable, and a continual process of selection and feedback, are key ways that life stays adaptive on Earth.
As we will see, exponential foresight models have been around for over a century in simple form, and they have been getting increasingly popular and sophisticated in the last few decades. Evo devo foresight models have been around for at least as long in simple form. In the last few decades, various forms of evo devo thinking are also becoming seriously applied, across many scales of human systems. I am co-founder of a small international research community, Evo Devo Universe, working to advance evo devo thinking and application. If you are interested in this topic, and a publishing scholar, we welcome you to join us.
Universal foresight has traditionally been little-discussed by foresight practitioners. It was traditionally lumped with global foresight, which is much more about our probable, possible, and preferred societal futures, rather than about what science and systems theory tells us about universe itself, and our universal goals, purposes, and values. That treatment is no longer adaptive due to the new speed and power of accelerating change in all aspects of society. If certain forms of societal, scientific, and technological acceleration are a predictable and developmental process, due to the particular structure of our universe, they will only get faster and more powerful for the rest of our lives, making the need to use them well increasingly central to our foresight work, whether we like it or not.
As for the science aspects of universal foresight, we will assume you have a college-level lay scientific knowledge as a precondition to modern practice, and the Guide won’t teach much science knowledge or methods. Most universal change models are not yet science but rather topics discussed in complexity and systems theory, a mix of philosophy, complexity studies, and practice that seeks general models for many types of complex adaptive systems.
Once you’ve been introduced to universal foresight, your view of the universe, and your place and abilities in it, may forever be changed and improved. I hope that our treatment of this topic motivates you to keep advancing your practice, not only in the traditional three foresight domains, but within the neglected yet very important universal foresight domain as well.