Insights · September 29th, 2022

One thing that has been a real challenge these past few years has been to communicate what foresight is, why it’s useful to your business and how it can have a positive impact on strategic planning.

As a Futurist / Futures Designer / Strategic Foresight Practitioner it’s clear each and every day as I scan for signals of change, consider emerging trends, develop What if… scenarios and create speculative fiction to immerse ourselves in those futures. 

Read that last sentence – this is why it’s so confusing and can come across as some kind of bullshit bingo. I digress…

The challenge is that all of these seem alien to executives and employees. They are not normal terms. The act of educating people just on these three areas can take time, training and the establishment of a foresight capability in the organization.

So, I have been trying to capture the essence of what it is we do and explain it simply. I think I have worked out a way to communicate that (fairly) simplistically.

The Data Pyramid

In every keynote I talk about the role of data and insight using the following data pyramid diagram.

Fig 1: The Data Pyramid

We collect raw data and process that into usable information. Then we take that and combine it into knowledge with context, narratives, analysis and connection back to the strategies and targets that we have laid out. Then the magic happens – wisdom. That is when the knowledge finds purpose and is shared into the organization, industry and overall economy. We learn from each other and that becomes part of our infinite sea of knowledge.

I like to discuss how we are in a ‘Wisdom Economy’ – a state where we are driven by purpose, profit and a focus on people really need.

I also use this to discuss machine learning and intelligence augmentation and how it’s transformed with data collection and information creation being (hopefully) automated and cutting out the pain of that drudge work. I spent 20+ years in that world and we need more help to make things easier, that’s for sure.

Vigilance and Futures Exploration

I had been using more convoluted outlines with the Foresight Framework I use however it took quite some time to break it down and explain it. Eyes would glaze over in situations where communication of method and value had to work quickly.

Then I realized that I could use the data pyramid diagram and tweak it slightly to communicate how we use foresight to influence business i.e. through futures exploration where we discover future states that can have bearing on our strategic planning and risk analysis.

This is how a couple of simple additions explain the value of foresight and the mindset needed in your organization – vigilance and futures exploration – to create the Augmented Data Pyramid.

Fig 2: The Augmented Data Pyramid

Let’s consider vigilance first. It wasn’t until recently that a quantified value of foresight, from an organizational perspective was explored in more detail. In 2018, René Rohrbeck and Menes Etingue Kum published their paper ‘Corporate foresight and its impact on firm performance: A longitudinal Analysis’.

The researchers ‘developed a model that judges a firm’s future preparedness (FP) by assessing the need for corporate foresight and comparing it to the maturity of its corporate foresight practices. Rohrbeck and Kum divided the companies into four categories according to the challenges on the markets in which they operate.

  1. Vigilant companies that work determinedly with corporate foresight in their market.
  1. Neurotic companies that might adapt their course of action to the movements in the market but do so without a long-term or strategic perspective.
  1. Vulnerable companies that have strategies, but whose strategies do not sufficiently address the challenges of their market.
  1. Companies in danger that might have strategies, but whose strategies are completely insufficient.

After seven years each company’s maturity was measured and it was the vigilant companies – the ones that integrated foresight with their strategic practices – that were ‘33 per cent more profitable than companies on average. In addition, these vigilant companies have achieved a 200 per cent higher growth rate than the average company.’

Dig into Rohrbeck and Kum’s paper here.

So, in this simple model, it feels important to implement foresight and create ongoing vigilance that feeds into real-world decision making today.

It’s also natural to call out Futures Exploration – which is an umbrella term for scanning for signals of change, trends identification, What if… scenario development and creating speculative fiction to ignite imaginations within the organization and their associated industries. This runs alongside the ascension up the pyramid from data to information to knowledge and wisdom as the work we do draws from and feeds into each stage. It’s a symbiotic process.

One thing is true. That while we simplify to pry open the door to these conversations, there is a great deal of work to be done by skilled foresight practitioners. The Futurist Think Tank and I strive to do that work with incredible organizations every year.

I’ve written about this extensively in my upcoming book ‘Facing Our Futures: How foresight, futures design and strategy creates prosperity and growth’ that comes out in February 2023 on Bloomsbury Business. Please take a look and preorder.

Reach out to me if you have any questions and let’s talk about establishing foresight in your organization. It’s a natural evolution and get ahead of the curve.

Foresight Methods
Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

Contact Nikolas