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Build Resilience with Strategic Foresight

If nothing else, Covid-19 has awakened us to the reality of VUCA (volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) or TUNA (Turbulence, Uncertainty, Novelty and Ambiguity). Are you reassessing all your plans and strategies - figuring out what to keep and what to change and what can increase your chances to survive and thrive going forward?

Where are you focusing? Are you focused on efficiency — what is easy and expedient — at the expense of creativity and innovation? Are you favoring the present at the expense of the future?

I know, most of us are torn between two urgencies — manage the immediate crisis or prepare for the future? A wicked problem indeed!

But what if we asked different questions?  How might we manage the immediate crisis AND prepare for a more promising future? How might we link our current actions to future outcomes? How might we handle the current crisis and be prepared to handle the inevitable next one?

In other words, how do we build resilience - the capacity to recover quickly from shocks and disruptions?

Whether you are an individual or an organization, resilience will be an essential skill as we move through and emerge on the other side of this current crisis.

Preparing for a future veiled in a dense fog of novelty and uncertainty, where the past offers few clues about the future, requires a new strategy - Foresight over Insight.

The HBR article, Learning from the Future by J. Peter Scoblic offers the Practice of Strategic Foresight - the capacity to sense, shape and adapt to change as it happens. It proposes a way to navigate uncertainty by anticipating possible futures while still operating effectively in the present.

If you want to build your capacity for resilience, it is time to institutionalize imagination — to set up a process of continuous exploration of possible futures, to build permanent but flexible bridges that connect actions of the present to many possible futures. Strategic Foresight offers a disciplined approach to do just that.

Consider building this 7-I kata into your resilience practice.

1. Invite the right people. 

Who are the right people? A diverse group of people who represent different roles, different points of view, different experiences; who together can challenge the mental models of how the world works. A group that brings together people who have the power to perceive, think and act. A group that includes varying strengths and proclivities to see a different future, map current reality to that future, and build that future.

2.  Identify assumptions, drivers and uncertainties.

Why identify assumptions, drivers and uncertainties? For sense making and viability of the current strategy, we need to take things apart before we can put them back together — disaggregate the transactional actors from environmental forces. It is important to clearly articulate the built-in assumptions and the desired outcomes of the current strategy and then identify which assumptions need to be revisited.

3.  Imagine plausible but dramatically different futures.

Extrapolate from the current trends and imagine what the future might look like 5, 10, 20 years into the future. Base the imagined futures on plausible outcomes within the guardrails of reality.

4. Inhabit those futures.

To effectively plan for the potential futures, you have to vividly imagine yourself in it. Doing this activity, away from the distractions of everyday life, allows for empathy, imagination and creativity to emerge. Activities like co-creating fictional newspaper articles, video clips, and pictures help develop a shared understanding and shared experience.

5. Isolate strategies.

Isolate the strategies that would be useful across multiple potential scenarios and ask what you should be doing NOW that would get you ready to respond effectively, if the potential future becomes a reality. Uncover common themes and create a plan and investment that supports a range of future scenarios.

6. Implement the strategies.

Develop the disciplines across the organization to build plans and act to advance the new strategies. Making future scenarios part of the thinking and language will bolster support for an idea when the need becomes clear. Creating autonomy and making it safe for participants to act at the unit level will ensure that the new strategies have the room to take hold where most relevant and participants have a ready response to a local challenge.

7. Ingrain the process.

Build resilience through Strategic Foresight is not a one-off activity. Establishing a regular cadence and iterative cycle for performing these series of steps develops the discipline for re-orienting towards the future with a keen eye on the present.

Imagine your next crisis today so you can meet it with a worthy response.

Awaken to new possibilities by building your capacity to not just passively respond to the future but actively imagine it so you can co-create it. It takes time and courage to invest in imagination, but Strategic Foresight is a disciplined approach to make it a worthy investment in deftly navigating to a more promising tomorrow.

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