On Friday 7/24, I took a full-day masterclass called “Trends+: From Insights to Integration”. Taught by Yvette Montero Salvatico and Frank Spencer from Kedge, this interactive workshop was designed to educate participants in methods of strategic foresight that quite literally go beyond identifying trends. Kedge is a foresight strategy consultancy that aims to provide organizations with the tools needed to incorporate futurism into their practices. Their philosophy is that if you do not incorporate foresight into your work and make time to consider the future, then your actions are not truly aligned with your direction.
At the core of foresight is the awareness of emerging trends, which typically occurs first with a shift in values and perspectives. As people converse and influence each other, that shift becomes a trend. “Thought leaders” or “rebels” are typically the nodes in the network that lead the trend and influence others to follow suit. Finally, a significant event will typically bring the trend and it’s related core issue to the public eye.
Frank Spencer discussing how trends and issues emerge.
(1) Foresight = Research + Creativity + Data + Intuition. While foresight does incorporate data and research, history is only a part of the equation. Effective foresight takes that information and transforms it into possible future scenarios that shape our current vision. If you were to look at a an Excel report on how your product has performed over the last 15 years and how this data expects the product to perform over the next five years, the resulting prediction would be highly unlikely. Factors change in unexpected ways and, moreover, most human developments are growing exponentially. We cannot predict a variable that does not yet exist, but strategic foresight allows us to creatively interpret current information in a way that effectively maps one or more potential scenarios.
(2) Singular trends do not give us much insight - we learn much more from looking at how trends collide. Individually, trends only scratch the surface of what is important in our societies and why. Looking at how trends collides gives insight into larger patterns, which in turn help us to see what the intrinsic value of those patterns are to our society.
(3) The future is really about people, not about the specific developments or products that we see. If you were to ask someone, “What do you think this building will be like in the future?”, they would likely respond with some grandiose vision of high-tech sliding doors and hoverboards. The importance, however, lies more in who is going through those doors and riding those hoverboards. So in strategic foresight, we are looking at things with a human-centric and increasingly broadened lens. Events and fads are the short-term impacts that we see day-to-day. Together these reveal trends, which in turn intersect and reveal patterns. All of this finally boils down into ultimately identifying the core physiological human impacts and how they will shape future needs.
(4) Your competitors are likely not in your industry. It is hard for us to see past the present day competition, but in most cases the biggest threats are those that have not yet been revealed. Right now Google is a major powerhouse, but 20 years ago no one would have predicted that it would be, and similarly it is quite probable that it will not be in the same power position 20 years from now. Industry leaders get to the top because they bring something that no one else has thought of, that revolutionizes some aspect of our lives. You can only beat an unknown future competitor by thinking about your product in an unconventional and broadened scope.
(5) Strategic Foresight is most beneficial to an organization when it is incorporated into every department and every step of a process; in other words, foresight thinking should be a natural part of all workflows. Kedge has outlined a “Natural Foresight Model”, that identifies the four major critical thinking components that should be used to evaluate a problem or project. It also details which part of a development process each component is most effective for.
Kedge’s “Natural Foresight Model”
Yvette and Frank not only explained fundamental concepts of strategic foresight, but also went on to tech the class several techniques used in practice. They split each table in half to create groups that we would work in for all of the class activities, and we spent the day doing work that felt much more like play.
Most of our thoughts and opinions do not lie in the domain of things we are consciously aware of. Foresight thinking helps to both illuminate our individual biases and to break them down and see things more objectively. One of the exercises that Kedge uses to do this feels much more like a game than work, which only makes the task of breaking down our biases easier.
They distributed sets of red, yellow, and green Livestrong-style bands to each 4-6 person group. Then showed us a set of 3 slides about a particular development, each revealing more information than the last. After a slide was presented, each person had to put a band that reflected their gut-reaction to the slide’s content around their palm and than raise their hand. Red indicated dislike, yellow indicated uncertainty, and green indicated positivity. From there, each group would internally discuss why they chose their respective colors, allowing people to attain perspective that might influence their band-color choice in the following round.
The final round tended to be polarizing for the groups in our session - either a group was in total alignment (with maybe a few stragglers in the “uncertain” category), or it was in total disagreement. But the point of the exercise is not to reach a consensus, it is to reveal why people feel the way they do. This then allows us to approach the problem with a more informed sense of the potential issues and controversies a development might have, and therefore means we can address those sooner rather than later.
In this process we are looking with three major lenses: Macro (outside of your industry), Meta (your industry’s larger environment), and Micro (within your specific organization). Scanning is looking for indications of future trends, and doing so outside of your organization’s typical domain in order to uncover hidden possibilities. What are the drivers, or deeper-level changes, that are causing shifts in the larger system? What are the trends, weak signals, and emerging issues that result from those drivers?
Step 1: “Scanning to find the voice” - the point of manifestation; these are the broad, external perspectives.
Step 2: “Scanning to find the heart” - the point of origin; these are the values and world views that are at the core of the trends at hand.
Step 3: “Scanning to find the imprint” - the point of impact; this focuses on what the effect on people will be, rather than on the things involved.
In each step, we must scan each element of S.T.E.E.P., the pillars of topics that primarily shape our societies: Societal, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political.
In this technique, we analyze possibilities in three potential world scenarios:
(1) The Transformative World - Net positive changes in society, production, technology, and consumption that signify intense changes in human values (e.g. human solidarity, respect for nature, etc.). This is often an overly optimistic outlook, where the transformative changes that society sees lead to an “era of abundance”.
(2) The Market World - This scenario is essentially what we expect would happen if our world continued to maintain the same values and trends. For example, this would likely involve “power of the crowd” and gamification creating new businesses, increased gaps between the rich and the poor, and the growth of “meg-cities as hubs of innovation”.
(3) The Fortress World - A pessimistic view where our world succumbs to a threat that could not be contained by market forces, governmental policies, or technological developments. This could mean AI overthrows the human race or total environmental collapse.
So what can we do with these 3 world types?
One approach to exploring the worlds is to look at several (say 3) current trends, identify a pattern and associated set of human values, create “headlines of the future”, and finally extrapolate those headlines into descriptions of each world type for the given pattern. In the class we did this with a set of Kedge-issued trend cars - and now that I have a set, I’m happy to go through the exercise with anyone interested!
Another approach utilizes a circular diagram to map potential outcomes in each world type. The pattern in question is shown in the center node, and each surrounding circle identifies potential outcomes. We work from the innermost circle outwards, and each time we think slightly farther into the future. In the first circle, we list immediate impacts that the pattern might have, and we frame those impacts in the world type that the node is shown in. In the second circle, we build off of the first circle’s outcomes rather than the pattern itself, and this time we ignore the world types while thinking 5-10 years into the future. Finally, in the third circle we essentially repeat the second step but consider 20 years into the future (again ignoring the world type).
An example future wheel made in the masterclass.
The most significant aspect of this method is that it focuses on identifying counter trends, as this often leads to a deeper understanding of why and how certain future outcomes are probable. Using the model above (with the hexagonal units), we progressively build each compound for a total of 3 rounds to identify our counter trends. Each compound of three units implies a round of inputs, moving in the order shown by the numbers in the above image and repeating the same progression for the third round.
So using our given pattern, in round 1, we first input trends, issues, events, and drivers that add up to our pattern. Next, we identify the values, cultures, and images that created the items in unit #0. Lastly, we note the impacts that these have on the human experience. For round 2 (and 3) we take those impacts on humanity and list the values that would subsequently emerge from them. Next, we identify the trend that would emerge from those values. Last, we list out what new trends and events will likely occur from those trends. In round three, we simply repeat the process used in round 2.
The back of my new Trend Cards from Kedge!