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Foresight Culture

Management, strategy, and foresight compared

by John Mahaffie on July 12, 2017

Foresight culture

This post distinguishes management, strategic planning and foresight. It suggests how the “long view” and global perspective of futurists, which is at the core of foresight, also benefits management and strategic planning.

Here are some definitions:

  • Management—design and orchestration of processes to maintain an organization’s operations and achieve its defined objectives. Near-term, generally focused on the present, and centered on the organization and its current operating environment.

  • Strategic planning—identifying and prioritizing goals and objectives for an organization’s near-term future, generally 3 to 5 years. Focused on the existing organization, it considers, or should consider, external environment impacts and change.

  • Foresight—long-range exploration of change, generally 10 years plus, and interpretation of possible futures for their organizational implications. It takes a broad, often global/contextual view of external forces shaping the future, and looks deep into the future to identify unmet challenges and emerging opportunities.

Managers are understandably focused on the present and on day-to-day management. The best are fine-tuning their processes and systems as they run. Others are playing catch up, implementing changes to put things right and catch up to existing demands. In either case, the work they are doing is management.

Managers have an instinctive action mindset. Their framing is on the organization and its sector and marketplace. That close-focus holds thinking in organizations in the present and the near at hand. It constrains exploration of more impactful change. The risk is an organization with blinders on, one that engages in a steady pattern of fire, ready, aim.

Strategic planning arises from this close-focus and near-term context. It works inside the habits of business managers, and usually falls short of engaging long-term thinking about new challenges and possibilities.

The solution is to separate execution from exploration. True leadership means pressing for a long view to discover more potential change and opportunity even as they maintain operations. With that stretch thinking comes a promise to “bring it home to today” which reassures stakeholders that the exploration is relevant and valuable.

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