II. Top Roles for Foresight Leaders
As we learned in Amara’s Three Ps Model, foresight thinking and acting can be grouped into three basic types: probable futures (what is likely to happen), which we also call “developmental” futures, possible futures (what might happen), or “evolutionary” futures, and preferable futures (what we want to happen), also called “evo devo” or “adaptive” futures in this guide. The figure at right offers three other very useful word pairs, protecting-predicting, innovating-experimenting, and learning-adapting, for these three classic thinking and behavior types.
As outlined in Chapter 1, it is usually best practice to begin our foresight thinking by contemplating probable futures, since those processes and outcomes will constrain the space of possible futures and of achievable preferable futures, in powerful ways. By starting with the expected future, including those trends and predictions that contradict our personal expectations, biases, and desires, we can better understand our options and uncertainties, and craft better strategy and plans to get where we want to go.
Toffler and Amara’s Three Ps can be associated with five common social roles for foresight professionals. As we will see, two of these roles are a bit more focused on uncovering probable futures, two roles a bit more focused on exploring possible futures, and the fifth is a bridging role focused most on preferable futures, while also covering the first two more basic domains.
The first two social roles we will consider, Consultant and Academic, are primarily about protecting or discovering “probably better” futures, with evolutionary thinking (innovating and experimenting) as a secondary theme, in service to better sustaining, predicting, and understanding activities. The next two roles, Creator and Entrepreneur, are primarily about describing, creating, or trying out “possibly better” futures, with developmental thinking (predicting and protecting) as a secondary theme, in service to creative and experimental activities in the search for the next big, valuable, or disruptive thing.
A fifth role, Organizational Foresighter, is the most common of the five. It involves working toward preferred futures as a manager or leader within an organization. It is primarily an adaptive role, one that involves wearing all the hats of the first four roles at various times and places. While all five roles blend both probability and possibility foresight as context dictates, managers and leaders must use all three types of foresight continually, using both competitive and cooperative strategies.
We all engage at least a little in each these roles over our careers. Yet most of us will focus on one or at most only a few of these at time. We may also find that our colleagues and clients mentally assign us to just one of these five at a time, based on our most public or client-facing activities, as a mental shortcut for who we are as professionals.
Given that reality, we’ve attempted a rough categorization of a few better-known foresight leaders into one primary role apiece, which we’ll list at the top of each role as we introduce each of them below. Our apologies to any who feel mis-categorized, and for most practitioners, too narrowly branded by this categorization convention. See Appendix 1 for some helpfully diverse peer career advice from foresight professionals who are leaders in each of these five social roles.