The calendar year is coming to an end.  It's a touch point moment where we acquire the outlook of the Roman god Janus: a dual perspective looking ahead as well as looking backwards.  This is where the work of foresight practice becomes particularly relevant. 

My first experiences in foresight practice were when I worked in the  fashion industry.  Fashion uses trends and trend research as strategic tools.  As Valerie Jacobs, Chief Insight + Innovation Office at LPK likes to say, "Trends are data from the future".  What's cool about scenario planning and identifying multiple possible futures is that we become adaptive, and less reactionary.  Paying attention to signals in the landscape means that you get really grounded in the present state.  So, for example, if you have identified that a trend is "blurred boundaries" in terms of gender identity and ethnic identity- then you must start paying attention in the present to hiring practices and advertising strategies.

The counterpoint to foresight work and forecasting is having hindsight, and doing a bit of backcasting.  Our present state has historical context.  And in order to adeptly interpret multiple future scenarios, we must know from whence we have come.  The 2016 HBO television movie Confirmation about the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearings of 1991 is a great example of backcasting.  In light of the deluge of workplace sexual harassment revelations in 2017, never more evident was Shakespeare's statement from The Tempest "past is prologue" than in Confirmation.

The best foresight strategy requires excellent hindsight and backcasting as well as keen observation skills in the present.  As you approach this new calendar year, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is part of my reality today that I could not have imagined a year ago?
  • What went right?  Why?
  • What went wrong?  Why
  • What brought me joy?  How can I put that into practice and make it a habit?
  • Who might my new teachers be in 2018?  What if I contacted that person and had a coffee or a conversation with them?  What do I want to learn and how might I learn it? 

Build on the What if's, the Why not's and the So what's?  It's a new year!

Published on: Dec 30, 2017