How to apply strategic foresight to your business

What is strategic foresight?

While we can’t predict the future, we don’t need to be victims of it either. We can prepare for it and shape the future we want for ourselves and the organisations we are part of. Strategic foresight is a framework that can be used in organisational and individual contexts to map out probable futures and identify new opportunities. Each action we take is creating our future. If we can be more purposeful and mindful of these actions, then we can create the desired future.

Why is it important?

Traditionally, business strategizing looked to the past to extrapolate and learn from prior performance to inform present and future strategy. While this is an important component, the world has moved away from linear and incremental change. Prior to the pandemic, the world was often described as VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Wired magazine has put forward a new acronym to describe our current landscape: BANI – brittleness, anxiety, nonlinearity, and incomprehensibility.

In this complex, multifaceted landscape an organisation needs to be continually keeping abreast with the changes that are happening that are shifting the future and applying these insights towards their business strategy.

How does an organisation apply strategic?

Strategic foresight allows us to identify emerging trends and issues in order to build a picture of the future.

Identifying trends and formulating insights is a key part of the strategic foresight process. William Gibson‘s much-quoted “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed,“ suggests that the present holds clues to the future.

At Flux Trends we use the T.R.E.N.D.S. framework to identify trends that are these signals of the future. Each letter of the acronym represents a different sector, together encompassing everything affecting society and business.

As an example, a trend that we recently highlighted was the Remote Worker Visas trend. Countries that rely heavily on tourism have introduced these visas that allow professionals to live in their country while working for a company abroad. The traditional 9 to 5 working in an office paradigm has been shifting and Covid-19 has accelerated this. How and where will people be working five to ten years from now? Does a workforce need to all be in the same geographical location?

These are the type of questions to ponder when planning for the future to avoid basing your strategy on ideas that may become obsolete.

A blind-spot scan is a tool to identify surprise events gathering on the horizon that could pose a threat to your business or even your entire industry. Rank the disruption risk of the key consumer and technology trends in your business environment and apply this to your business strategy. External viewpoints may be necessary for this tool since the very nature of a blind spot is that it is invisible to those close to the organisation. This is one strategic foresight tool where it would be recommended to obtain input from outside consultancies that provide this service.

Scenario planning is another strategic tool to envisage best, worst, and most-likely futures for your company and the environment you trade-in in order to make flexible long-term plans. These different scenarios can be explored to determine their impact and how to respond to them should they become reality.

To what areas of business can it be applied?

Now that you have identified the trends and issues that are relevant to your business’s future, what should you do with these insights?

  • Apply the insights of the future to examine the robustness of existing business strategies. Strategic foresight should be a key component of a comprehensive business plan.
  • Strategic foresight enables organisations to identify opportunities for new products or services, or the potential to pivot towards offerings more relevant to the present and the future.
  • Create and embed a culture of innovation around the identified strategies and strategic objectives.

A strategic foresight mindset requires that the status quo be questioned. A growing body of research has been revealing that companies that are taking educated risks are the ones that are thriving during these pandemic times. Make plans to buffer yourself if a negative future comes to pass but don’t be stuck in a comfort zone. Use the insights gained during the strategic foresight process to pursue new opportunities or move away from ideas that are no longer working. Agility and boldness are key during this period of uncertainty.

“It’s not ‘what you know,’ but rather ‘asking the right questions’ that is most important.”