August 16, 2018

This SPRING learning module is intended to give you a brief overview of foresighting by defining what it is and is not, explaining why foresighting is an important strategic insight activity, and introducing some common approaches to foresighting.

Module 1 begins by providing a Crash Course section that should take less than an hour to complete.  The next section introduces the SPRING foresighting sequence and how we are using this process to explore the Future of Intelligent Systems. The module concludes with a Deep Dive section, which provides an extensive set of foresighting resources and examples for those who wish to spend more time learning about foresighting.


What is foresighting and why use foresighting?

Today, operating a large business and innovating seems to be harder than ever. The diversity and complexity of changes in markets, customers, and technology are greater than ever before. In our increasingly interconnected and global economies and supply chains, disruptions can seemingly arise from anywhere with no warning. Executives we have surveyed say the most daunting challenges they face are (1) managing complexity and (2) having conviction and confidence to move into new and future growth areas where certainty is not possible. At best, it can seem that we are not being as effective and prepared as we should be, and at worst, it can seem overwhelming and paralyzing. So, there is a paradox: the future is unknowable, yet business leaders and innovators are supposed to prepare for and create the future.

What to do? Business growth and innovation requires new ways of seeing and thinking about the world and the future and developing the organizational capacity for sustained learning about both. Innovating beyond the incremental requires seeing to new horizons and opportunities. A focus on learning—a broader, and increasingly forward-looking exploration—is needed to help inform and shape corporate strategic focus and adaptability.

“Learning faster than the competition is the only sustainable, competitive advantage.”

– Arie DeGues, a former senior R&D executive at Shell

Internal exploration and learning through R&D and other internal discovery has always been critical to innovation. In the last 20 years, much attention has been given to external insights. Building a broader view and engagement of the external world to enable innovation is vital. Open innovation in all its forms (partnering, venturing, scouting, collaboration) seeks to educate the organization from the outside in about the world of the possible, what is most viable, and with whom to partner. Design thinking emphasizes looking outside the organization, empathizing with users, and understanding the problems they are trying to solve. But, these common internal and external learning approaches alone do not provide a way to anticipate how new complexities or disruption might arise. Companies need different methods to envision preferred futures in which they can create opportunities and mitigate challenges. Given these realities, companies are increasingly looking to develop better capabilities and practices to explore and anticipate the future. Today, proactively learning about and preparing for the future is an organizational and social imperative.

Given the accelerating pace of change and the unpredictable nature of the future, foresighting best practices provide a disciplined approach to make the challenges of uncertainty more manageable. To use an analogy—if you are driving at night, your regular headlights are fine if the road is straight and you drive slowly. However, if you are speeding down an unfamiliar and winding road, you want your bright lights on. Futures work is our attempt to put the bright lights on so that we might better see what is coming.


Want the rest of the module?  IRI members and SPRINGBOARD attendees can download it here.

Nonmembers may request one module free of charge.  Subsequent modules can be purchased as a bundle here.  To request this module, please email Lee Green at