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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Strategic Foresight

Updated: Mar 18

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #154

If given the choice, would you rather possess a crystal ball that reveals the future or a chessboard that always provides the right moves? This question from an article by Amy Webb in the Harvard Business Review caught my attention as a unique way to introduce the topic of strategic foresight. Webb discusses how strategy and foresight have become disconnected since the 1980s and '90s in her article. She posits, "It's time to bring strategy and foresight back together, recognize their interconnectedness, and set new expectations for what they can accomplish together." With this backdrop, let's delve into why strategy and foresight are indispensable leadership skills in our latest "Leadership Thought."

At the heart of effective leadership lie the twin pillars of strategy and foresight, each distinct yet profoundly interconnected.

  • Foresight: Visionary leaders must be able to see over the horizon to predict and anticipate future events, trends, or conditions. When leaders anticipate potential scenarios, they can make better-informed decisions today.

  • Strategy: Strategy requires creating a specific plan of action to achieve goals. It requires the ability to understand the science of planning and the capability to garner resources. When strategizing, leaders set goals, determine the actions to achieve those goals and mobilize the resources to execute the actions. Strategy is a coherent and comprehensive plan that outlines how an organization or individual will achieve its objectives.

The difference between the two lies in their purpose and approach: foresight involves anticipating potential future events to make informed decisions in the present, while strategy is about devising a plan to reach specific goals, often utilizing foresight as one of its components. With foresight, we can better predict what may occur, allowing for developing a strategic plan to achieve desired outcomes while minimizing potential risks.

Having the ability to anticipate and strategically plan for future challenges and opportunities is crucial. How can one improve these skills to become a visionary leader who effectively plans for the future? Here are some essential skills that will assist in becoming a leader with foresight and strategic planning capabilities.

  1. Developing Vision: Having a clear vision is the cornerstone skill for leaders. It enables them to confidently communicate their desired future for the organization and its members. This vision drives the purpose and informs the strategy that guides decision-making.

  2. Continuous Learning: A constant learner requires actively staying informed about trends, innovations, and changes within and outside your organization. This necessitates cultivating curiosity. Some ways to stay informed include reading, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, subscribing to newsletters and blogs, and participating in online discussions. Seek opportunities to engage with "thought leaders" with expertise and a deep understanding of their field. Thought leaders are known for their innovative ideas, forward-thinking perspectives, and ability to shape the direction of their profession or area of expertise.

  3. Networking and Collaboration: Networking and collaborating are crucial in professional growth. Leaders who isolate themselves from a diverse network of people limit their perspectives and opportunities to learn. Working with individuals from varying backgrounds can reveal our blind spots and present innovative ideas for the future.

  4. Environmental Scanning: The most effective way to predict emerging trends is to regularly scan what is occurring with technology, economics, society, and politics. In other words, leaders must stay current on what happens in their profession, around them, and the world.

  5. Scenario Planning: The military understands the value of scenario planning while still providing autonomy for field decisions. When we engage in scenario planning, we create different ways to view the future. These detailed narratives help leaders to think about what could happen and how best to respond.

  6. Encouraging Innovations: Don't go it alone! Foster an organizational culture that promotes innovation, risk-taking, and forward-thinking. Strategically implement ways to share insights and foresight from all organization members. Acknowledge and incentivize innovative practices and proactive thinking that leads to well-informed decisions.

  7. Reflective Practices: Reflecting on past decisions, successes, and failures as individuals and in groups can provide valuable insights for the future. This deliberative process allows us to better comprehend the consequences of our choices, ultimately leading to improved decision-making in the future.

  8. Adaptive Mindset: Creating an organization where individuals have strategic foresight requires people who are willing to be flexible and responsive to change. Recognizing that the future is uncertain and ready to make pivotal changes is crucial.

Would you prefer a crystal ball that reveals the future or a chessboard that decrees the best strategy? There is a third option: exploring how best to integrate strategy and foresight into your leadership. The third option, strategic foresight, points us to an integrated approach to leading. Strategic foresight is a systematic approach used to investigate expectations for the future. The purpose is to recognize developing patterns, potential scenarios, obstacles, and advantages to guide present-day choices and behaviors. Unlike traditional forecasting, which predicts future trends based on past and current data, strategic foresight employs a broader range of techniques to consider potential disruptions and unforeseen circumstances. Questions: Here are three questions for thoughtful reflection.

  1. Based on the distinction between foresight and strategy discussed in the blog post, how do these components play out in your current leadership or decision-making approach?

  2. The comparison of a crystal ball and a chessboard as symbols for foresight and strategy begs the question: what impact does technology have on leadership? In particular, how do you believe new technologies like artificial intelligence and extensive data analysis can assist leaders in honing their abilities to anticipate future events and plan strategically?

  3. The blog post suggests improving foresight and strategic planning skills, including continuous learning, networking, and fostering innovation. Take a moment to consider the prevailing culture of your team or organization: does it facilitate or impede the growth of these abilities?

Reference: Webb, A. (2024, January 12). Bringing true strategic foresight back to business. Harvard Business Review.


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