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Strategic Foresight: Reaching Your Remarkable, Less Risky Future

How strategic foresight works

I was recently interviewed by the World Future Society about how I use strategic foresight and other futures tools in my work. The following is a modified version of the article that appeared on their Private Member Network:

When was your first time you recognized that you were bringing strategic foresight to your work?

I’d never come across the term strategic foresight before being asked to write about it by a UK business magazine I contribute to regularly. As I listened to one interviewee explain her practice, I thought, “This is exactly what we do for our clients, just with a focus on thought leadership.”

That’s when my business partner, Craig, and I decided we were going to use strategic foresight tools to help our clients gather insights that would translate into competitive advantage. Especially given this comment I quoted in my article, entitled Take Control of Your Business Destiny:

Scenarios can identify white space opportunities that remain unfulfilled until a first mover occupies the space that less imaginative competitors never knew existed. ~ Jay Ogilvy, Stratfor (writing in Forbes)

As it turned out, combining strategic foresight with thought leadership is a differentiator for our business.

Scenarios can identify white space opportunities that remain unfulfilled; less imaginative competitors never saw. #Stratfor Click To Tweet

For example, I worked with a client in financial services around retirement readiness. By applying a Futurist Mindset and strategic foresight to the problem of insufficient saving by the Boomer generation, it prompted us to ask different questions:

  • What would it look like if a much higher percentage of Americans did have the money they needed to retire with dignity?
  • What do we need to do now in order for that to happen?

What does it mean to you to be a Futurist?

Futurists are concerned with things that have not yet happened. There’s such a lot of freedom and flexibility in that, but also a lot of fear for many people. We believe that the present, up to a point, is in our control. But the future—or so many people think—is not in our control, so it’s more frightening to look at it.

One of the greatest services that Futurists can offer is to help people appreciate that because the future, by its very definition, hasn’t happened yet, we have the freedom and flexibility to shape, influence, to create it through what we do in the present. There are many tools that can help with that within the strategic foresight toolbox!

What is the most recent example of a new insight that’s come from having a Futurist Mindset?

One of the biggest fears I’m aware of currently concerns robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (see my article, Will a Robot Steal Your Job?). Not least the expectation that we’re all soon going to be unemployed.

But is that really true? Is that just the media focusing on scare tactics?

A while back, the governor of the Bank of England pronounced that 50% percent of people in Britain will not have a job in 5 or 10 years’ time. But that’s contradicted by some very sound research put out by McKinsey saying that it’s certain activities within jobs, rather than entire occupations, that are likely to be automated. That completely changes the discussion, and the solutions for handling such a scenario. In fact, this speaks to a project I’m working on at the moment, specifically targeted at the financial services industry.

Having a Futurist mindset and using strategic foresight tools helps me to ask different questions:

  • What jobs can’t be left to robots, even those benefiting from AI and deep machine learning?
  • What will robotic process automation enable that make our working lives better, not worse?
  • In the new world of work, what jobs could exist?

There are so many opportunities that people haven’t even considered yet. And, unfortunately, so little being done in colleges to prepare the next generation for what they will face. But around a positive future, not a dystopian one.

I especially liked a comment Kevin Kelly made when speaking at SXSW 2016: That there will come a time when we look back at 2016 and wonder why we allowed human beings to do such awful, routine, “robotic” jobs. What a waste of our creative potential!

To my mind, the future isn’t as dismal for human beings as people make it out to be, and there’s plenty of evidence to prove that.

There’ll come a time when we look back & wonder why we let humans do such routine, “robotic” jobs. @kevin2kelly Click To Tweet

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Futurists today?

The scale at which we handle key decisions.

As we look at the challenges of sustainability, climate change, and other critical topics, the way we interact with one another is going to be crucial.

Take the way we govern, for example. Given that today’s governments don’t play nicely together, is it feasible to expect a “world government” at some point? That’s certainly been a suggestion put forward for tackling world issues that affect us all.

But why don’t we look at this from another angle? Psychologists tell us we’re hard-wired to operate more effectively in smaller groups than in large ones. For example, I recently read an Atlantic article by James Fallows where he took a small plane across the United States, dropping in at some of those Midwestern towns few of us ever think about or have visited. He discovered that people are doing amazing things in their own neighborhoods. That is, in small groups! It’s where they feel they have greatest control and can bring about real, positive change.

So here’s my question: What would happen if more small groups and neighborhoods were empowered to act locally and were connected and networked globally? What kind of exchange of ideas and information would be possible?

I believe the more we do in small groups, the greater the strides forward we can make collectively. Surely, we don’t need any more big government organizations. They’re slow, cumbersome, expensive, and hardly ever get anything notable done. We need to think small. That includes, at an individual level, how each of us can help imagine, influence and create a brighter future for everyone.

And I can’t imagine a better place at the moment to do that, than at the upcoming WorldFuture 2016 Summit, that I’ll be attending between July 22 and 24 in Washington D.C. Join us and prove to yourself that A Brighter Future Possible!

A brighter future is possible. Discover how: #WorldFuture2016. Register here: Click To Tweet

About Dr. Liz Alexander

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