What Is Natural Foresight®?
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A Framework for the VUCA World
Let’s state the obvious. One-size-fits-all templates do not solve the problems that exist in this VUCA world.
The military coined the term VUCA to describe the chaotic situations in modern war-torn landscapes. We discuss why strategies need to acknowledge VUCA to thrive in this post-normal world.
The world is constantly changing, at a rate faster than ever before.
It was always safe to say that the future is unknowable. But in today’s volatile environment, uncertainty becomes even more uncertain.
The issues that drive change do not exist in isolation. A political uprising has economic implications. A revolutionary technology leads to environmental impacts.
If uncertainty is when the variables are defined but their values are unknowable, then ambiguity is a state where even the variables are unknown.
At The Futures School, we embrace the VUCA environment.
We leverage a process that mimics natural growth curves to take advantage of VUCA, rather than combat it.
We call this framework Natural Foresight®.
Natural Foresight® Leverages Complexity
Strategic Foresight is the most critical leadership skill for the 21st century.
But the approaches that are out there fail to account for the VUCA environment.
Natural Foresight® goes beyond iterative steps. It employs an organic approach that mimics the powerful growth cycles found in nature.
It is this environment that led to the creation of a more holistic framework for thinking and acting on the future that we call Natural Foresight ® . Implementing this framework not only helps us leverage complexity as a foundational principle. But it also provides a practical and intuitive approach to futures literacy.
In addition to mirroring the complex systems around us, Natural Foresight® allows users to enter or exit the framework at an point depending on their present needs. Since the idea behind the framework is systemic, connected, and circular rather than linear, each phase can be iteratively refined by the next, as well as by the entirety of the process.
Beyond recognizing that an increasingly complex environment is a natural and organic sign of maturity, researchers and professionals are realizing that complexity is the seedbed of unlimited human creativity. This generative idea reframes our view of complexity from being a force that opposes progress to one that enables us to unearth creative solutions to our greatest challenges. Much like an ever-growing canvas, accelerating complexity is giving us more space on which to paint an unending series of unique masterpieces.
Underpinned by the concept of cascading S-curves and complex adaptive cycles, NFF is commonly presented in four facets or phases which can be leveraged more holistically and organically than a process involving linear and ordered steps. Depending on the need or where a user may find themselves at any given point in time, the phases and tools within NFF can be deployed either together or independently, as well as in any order. This is due to the fact that the Natural Foresight® Framework mimics the comprehensive and integrated perspective of organic growth which is on display in nature in a continuous process. If you find yourself inhabiting the Explore phase at the moment, then that’s where you start. No need to worry that you’ve skipped a “step” – NFF ensures that all phases will be integrated and as you continue your foresight journey. Since the idea behind the framework is systemic, connected and circular rather than linear, each phase can be iteratively refined by the next, as well as by the entirety of the process(ex. Outcomes produced in the Create phase will be re-examined through further assumption and bias modeling, a deeper dive into horizon scanning, expanded scenario ethnography, etc.).
What is a Panarchy, and why is it important to creating robust foresight?
Throughout nature, systems across all scales – from infinitesimal to universal – are inextricably linked. Some of those systems are fast-moving (such as technology lifespans) and others move much more slowly (such as governmental or evolutionary processes), but they are all intricately interconnected and constantly impacting one another. It could be said that these individual systems are even stacked, layered or “nested” with one another, much like a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls. From that perspective, the panarchy – dynamic symmetry across multiple scales – offers us a much more holistic and comprehensive view of future influences and states, enabling us to understand how the pathway of any system alters and is altered by other nested systems. Whereas some approaches to foresight follow linear steps that may lead to reductive outcomes, NFF empowers users to think in a circular, multi-layered, and regenerative framework. In this way, our futures work has greater depth and breadth, and our outcomes will be much more robust.
The Natural Foresight® Framework mirrors these complex systems and, ultimately, the model of the nested panarchy. In the Discover phase, individual and collective assumptions about the world around us are questioned, and this can release us from our preconceived notions about the future. In the Explore phase, environmental, horizon and speculative scanning introduces us to new ideas, reorganizing and renewing our approach to the future. In the Map phase, the development of patterns, scenarios, future pathways and emerging landscapes of change foster alternative possibilities and desired outcomes, and this enables us to pursue new growth. In the Create phase, practical steps are taken to bring the future into the present, and this builds maturity into the ideas, strategies, innovations, and models that have been produced through our foresight work. This archetypal foresight journey continues to expand, allowing us to reframe based on the outcomes of phases as we make our way back around to our starting place in the infinite cycle, as well as recognizing and uncovering the nest of cycles that enlarge our view of future systems, impacts and layers of interconnected realities.
The Three Natural Foresight® Domains
The Behavioral domain
To drive value in an ever-changing world of increasing chaos, complexity and contradictions, we must adopt new ways of thinking.
- SENSING Mindset Trends in quantifiable technology, social algorithms, and big data are exploding, but it is those who hone the mindset of sense-making and pattern recognition who will truly be able to understand and leverage the world that is emerging around them.
- MESHING Mindset In this new era, we must “un-silo” disciplines and practices to foster the mergence of unique ideas and actions. This is the skill of intentionally creating the “spaces in-between.” The ability to explore the sweet spots between silos allows us to “dance with complexity.”
- TRANSFORMATION Mindset An increasingly complex world demands that we move beyond incremental innovation into transformational thinking and invention. The leaders of today must “embrace the unknown”– to have the ability to go beyond the familiar confines of the known universe, and explore the not-yet-imagined ideas.
It’s about moving away from short-term thinking to long-term vision.
Complexity is the seedbed of unlimited human creativity.
The Technical domain
Natural Foresight® is a proven framework for implementing futures thinking into the hearts and minds of key decision-makers. The framework is presented in four technical facets:
- Discover: Context and Background We must look past our present-day models and ideas in order to recognize disruptors on the horizon of business and society.
- Explore: Futures Intelligence When we scan the external environment, we create a glimpse into the future – much clearer than we could get from any crystal ball.
- Map: World Building Scenario development immerses people and organizations into future possibilities, allowing them to assess the validity, robustness, and future-readiness of their current strategies and to uncover new opportunities.
- Create: Action and Outcomes After developing informed maps of the future and pressure-testing strategies, sustainable foresight must become woven into the fabric of individuals and organizations.
The Impact domain
Strategic Foresight is a discipline, but it actually works best as a philosophy or operating system running in the background.
We lean on the mindsets and tools to drive our decision-making in the present.
Ultimately, we want to create the future we envision today.
- STRATEGY Strategic Foresight differs from strategic planning, which relies largely on spreadsheet-based models to extrapolate historical performance into a linear future plan. As landscapes change, so must our plans and approaches. Strategy must move beyond formal analysis and hard data. Natural Foresight helps us look outside of our industry, broaden our view of external issues, and develop robust, flexible, and creative visions of organizational direction.
- INNOVATION What if we could build proactive organizations that aren’t constantly in the act of chasing or being chased? Transcending disruption in an age of increasing complexity means we must change our organizational focus. When companies instill foresight into innovation, they see possibilities on the horizon and seize them today.
- CHANGE Creating an adaptive, resilient, and transformative organization does not mean simply staying informed about the latest trends or implementing the newest fads. Creating a culture of future thinkers will help every member of your organization to think holistically and be proactive about change.
- PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Forget the “career ladder” or even the “lattice.” Career Foresight allows us to sketch out three or more divergent stories about possible futures over the next 10 years or more. The ability to chart a course to our aspirations regardless of obstacles allows us to recover from setbacks quickly, while taking advantage of new opportunities.
Through The Futures School, anyone can learn and use
the Natural Foresight® framework.
How can The Futures School empower you to create the future that you know is possible?
For more on the Natural Foresight® Framework, download the Guide to the Natural Foresight® Framework or visit the NFF ® homepage.