Strategic Foresight can do more than help us to see what might come, it can help us to live better lives today. Using the example of well-being we look at how design with foresight can help us create a better present while shaping our preferred future.
What if we could live in the future today? Strategic Foresight is a form of applied design research that can help us envision what might come based on what’s unfolding right now, but it can also help us today.
By bringing together psychology, design, and strategic foresight we can better shape today by imaging our tomorrow.
Foresight and Futures
What Strategic Foresight does is focus our attention on trends across a variety of categories that are relevant to the topics we want to understand. These are represented in frameworks like STEEP-V (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political and Values) and numerous others.
Foresight involves conducting research on patterns organized across these frameworks to help us make sense of what has happened, is happening, and is likely to happen at different time horizons in the future. That research is then converted into scenarios to envision possible futures — trajectories or combinations of trends and patterns that have some likelihood of happening. Foresight helps us to imagine what might happen what the consequences of those patterns are.
The aim is not to predict the future, but develop strategic plans robust enough to adequately anticipate changes ahead of them becoming real. (The future is always in motion which is why prediction is not a useful, practical goal). Even an approximate estimate of what is coming can be enough to allow an organization to prepare and even capitalize on trends early.
Applied Foresight: Living the Future Now
Foresight is only useful if what we see in our research and scenarios translates into some kind of action. For example, seeing the future of financial markets (positive or not) means little if your investing habits aren’t affected. Or understanding the risks posed by a changing climate means little if we don’t adapt how we live.
Foresight has a use problem. Much of what is developed under strategic foresight is not used — and therefore not strategic. Seth Godin recently wrote about this gap in future-related action with a call to live the future in the present.
Seth notes how our present problems and issues were once of the future and because they were not addressed we have them today. But, as he notes, eventually the ‘future’ becomes the present:
“Because sooner or later, we live in the present. A present filled with stories and cultural pressure and the urgencies we invent for ourselves.” – Seth Godin
It’s this idea of living the future today that can make foresight work the most useful and compelling. What if we took time to seriously contemplate what our futures might look like? In forming those scenarios, how might we live a good life today while helping create our preferred future? As Seth adds:
“All we can do with the future is experience our story about it right now.” – Seth Godin
Imagine designing our life or organizations differently?
Futures and Well-being Scenario
I recently wrote a series on well-being here on Censemaking and had the chance to speak to James Donison about that series. In it, we discussed five things that an organization can do to create well-being among their employees and partners. (You can listen to the entire episode of Reaching for the Middle to hear the full discussion).
One of the questions we covered was on the role of design and design thinking in shaping well-being. What would experiencing the story of well-being look like right now using what we know about design?
For starters, we might add health and wellness courses to our professional development offerings. We might look to cultural practices like Fika in Sweden (shared, informal, twice-daily, coffee-and-cake breaks that bring people together) and ask how we might create something like that in our organization. Can you imagine how we would act if we had a culture of well-being already in place?
Another option might be to create spaces for people to engage with one another and co-design performance metrics. Drawing on research from Amy Cuddy and others on performative changes — “fake it till you become it” – we could act as if we were an organization that fostered well-being until we actually achieve it.
As organizational leaders, we could set ourselves up to live the future today by changing what we do in our practices today. This is an active attempt to embody the change we seek in the world in our actions today. As we know from psychological science, changing how we act can change how we think.
Intentions to Actions Through Design
Intentions matter little without action. We can hope for a different future, see threats and consider opportunities, but if we don’t take action it’s largely for naught. This is the folly of foresight. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We are all designers if we choose to be. Our choices define who we are, what we do, and the world we live in. We can choose real strategic foresight and to design our present based on what we see coming (and change the course of our future in the process) or we can simply react. We can be resilient at its best or its worst.
The choice and tools are ours to make.
The costs and consequences of failing to see what might come and strategize around it are growing every year. Why not start now before the future becomes the present and leaves you unprepared. Reach out if your organization could benefit from some help with seeing the future and designing for it.