Learning from the Future

This is a brief review of Patricia Lustig’s Strategic Foresight: Learning from the Future.

Strategic Foresight is of particular interest to me because I’m a provisional member of the Association of Professional Futurists and working on a professional certification in Strategic Foresight through the University of Houston. Lustig’s book is a very good introduction to and overview of the futurist discipline. Here are just a few of my many highlights:

Leadership is “engaging others…to co-create the future” (11).

What is Strategic Foresight? It is not making predictions or fortune telling but “thinking ahead so you can act ahead…anticipate possible futures…forethought…a willingness to explore the future and jointly and collectively make sense of it” (17).

Strategic Foresight begins with exploring “the stories you tell yourself (and others) about your past and present, and how these stories affect the way you perceive the future” (28).

“One of the easiest ways to shift your thinking is to change the questions you ask” (30).

Quoting Martin Seligman (whom I studying psychology with through a University of Pennsylvania online program): “An organism’s ability to improve its chances for survival lies in the future, not in the past” (47). Most metrics we use for this purpose are lagging vs. leading indicators.

“The future is a moving target. And those who are prepared for multiple possibilities are those who will thrive” (55).

Five qualities are needed for organizational change / transformation / renewal: Insight, Options, Machinery, Values, and Narrative.
An Agile operating model is an example of “Machinery.”
The most important of these is Narrative because it embodies everything else, regardless of the claims we make about everything else. “…it is imperative that your organizational Narrative is thoroughly researched and understood and that the underlying assumptions are identified and challenged” (59).
Narrative is composed of words. “Language isn’t just a tool to describe reality, it creates our reality” (64).

The most significant blockers to exploring future possibilities and change: Find the Flaw, Not Responsible, Us vs. Them, Either/Or, Scarcity.
Another is “hedgehog” thinking: “a single discipline or expertise will be sufficient to solve a problem” (120). Or “a particular tool” or framework is sufficient (123).

Recognize ambiguity and uncertainty gifts because “here lies the opportunity” (78).

A good overview of Strategic Foresight tools includes:

  • Personal and Organizational Lifeline
  • Three Horizons Framework: what is fading, what is transitioning, what is emerging–where these intersect is the Magic Triangle where we identify next small steps
  • Environmental Scanning
  • Map Making
  • Futures Wheel
  • Scenario Planning
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Systems Thinking / Cynefin Framework
  • Causal Layered Analysis
  • VERGE Framework

Five stars–highly recommended!

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