Trend spotting and foresight

In this month's World Future Society email newsletter that I get I read that foresight is the single most critical skill for the 21st century. Here's why:

Foresight is critical to achievement in all areas of your life, including your major life decisions. People who lack foresight are likely to find themselves unemployed when jobs are unexpectedly lost to new technologies, competition from overseas, or shifts in consumer tastes. Foresight is the key to survival in a world of disruptive innovation.

Foresight enables you to see opportunities, avoid threats, and chart the fastest path to your goals. The key to success is seizing opportunity when it arises. But you need to see the opportunity and be prepared to take action. That's why foresight gives you power and agility to achieve any goal you want to achieve.

So that's good to know. What happens next in the newsletter is the presentation of seven points that aim to help you 'spot tomorrow's trends today', as follows:

1. Scan the Media to Identify Trends-Futurists often conduct an ongoing and systematic surveys of news media and research institutes. These surveys help spot significant trends and technology breakthroughs. Futurists call this environmental scanning.

2. Analyze and Extrapolate Trends-After the trends are identified, the next step is to plot the trends to show their direction and development into the future. Trend analysis and extrapolation can show the nature, causes, speed, and potential impacts of trends.

3. Develop Scenarios-Futurists often describe the future development of a trend, a strategy, or a wild-card event in story form. These scenarios can paint a vivid picture that can help you visualize possible future developments and show how you can prepare effectively for future risks and opportunities. Scenarios help you to blend what you know about the future with imagination about the uncertain. Scenarios help you move from dreaming to planning and then to accomplishment.

4. Ask Groups of Experts-Futurists also conduct "Delphi Polls" which are carefully structured surveys of experts. Polling a wide range of experts in a given field can yield accurate forecasts and suggestions for action.

5. Use Computer Modeling-Futurists often use computer models to simulate the behavior of a complex system under a variety of conditions. For example, a model of the U.S. economy might show the effects of a 10 percent increase in taxes.

6. Explore Possibilities with Simulations-Futurists create simulations of real-world situations by means of humans playing different roles. For example, in war games, generals test out tactics they may later use on the battlefield, or corporate executives can explore the possible results of competitive strategies.

7. Create the Vision-Futurists help organizations and individuals systematically develop visions of a desirable future. Visioning creates the big picture of the possibilities and prepares the way for goal setting and planning
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These are standard ideas for trend spotting, and one could quarrel with several of them as sensible things to do, so I didn't learn much new from this list, but what I did begin to ask myself is "What is the link between 'foresight' and 'spotting tomorrow's trends today'." So far, I'm not sure that there is one. In pondering this I found Dublin City University's website. It explains that:

Foresight is the process of preparing for the future. By understanding what changes and developments may define and shape the future, organisations are better prepared to capitalise on the potential of the future and to reduce the risks and threats it may present.

The futures tools and techniques which contribute to foresight enable organisations to shape their own futures; to make best use of their resources; to benefit all their stakeholders; to adapt, innovate and thrive; to make more informed decisions and develop more robust strategies.

This took me scurrying back to the report on Ireland's economy that I'd just read:

By the time the recession ended earlier this year, [Irelan's] GDP was 15% below its peak, unemployment had reached 13% and the cost of rescuing Ireland's banks had soared beyond initial estimates.

Maybe I'm feeling skeptical today but on a single example it seems that even if someone has the ability to trend spot, they may not have the foresight to know what to do about the trend. If the foresight program offered by DCU was really up to snuff would the Irish economy be in the state it's in now? I haven't checked to see if faculty members or students on the program were sending warnings to government, or businesses, and maybe they were (if so not heeding the warnings shows lack of foresight too).

At this point I haven't drawn any conclusions and I'm still 'noodling' the connection, if any, between trend spotting and foresight, if only because I want to know if my belief that 'trend spotting' is organizationally a good thing to do – has any connection with whether organizational members need to be skilled in 'foresight' to know what to to with the trend they's spotted.

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