Strategic Foresight is a Competitive Advantage

When the Future is Uncertain, Strategic Foresight Can Give Business a Competitive Advantage

Strategic Foresight is a Competitive Advantage

On the face of it, strategic foresight does not have much in common with investment.

Business leaders watch the short term. Strategic foresight professionals–like Prescient–look at the long term.

Firms crave certainty. Strategic foresight professionals abide by the tenet that the future is uncertain. This is because there is no data in the future from which to extrapolate.

What useful advice then if any, can a foresight firm offer? At Prescient, our work with stakeholders over the last year shapes our answer regarding our clients’ investment environment.

Trend Watching is Not the Answer

This may seem counter-intuitive. But hear us out: A trend is a clear upward or downward pattern of events over time. It looks like a diagonal line on a graph. A long term trend provides evidence that the future is likely to continue along the path of the past.

Trend information matters because it provides a clear context for planning. Here are a few trends that are unlikely to reverse direction in the next few years:

This is critical information. But it is not exclusive information, available only to you.

This information is also available to everyone. It cannot offer you any particular advantage. You can act on it, but so can everyone else. Ignoring meaningful trends is foolish. Also foolish: believing that trend information provides you any distinct strategic advantage.

Instead, take our advice and refine these two distinct strategic foresight activities for a real competitive advantage: 

Optimize your signals’ sensor

Gaining a true informational advantage in a transparent world, in which a lot of information is available, is not easy.

This is where the frameworks of strategic foresight can support business. Strategic foresight is the science and art of finding signals of future change as early as possible.

The word signals isn’t random — it comes from information theory.

Information theory explores how to make sure that messages reach their intended target.  This is not easy; signals can get lost in noise or static. As a result, their intended recipients may not hear them.

By analogy, for futurists the entire world is composed of noise and signals.

Every day in the world, there are large and small events that might suggest a change in the status quo. People in one part of the world may decide to try a new way to eat, or entertain themselves, or educate their children. There are new discoveries in laboratories. In a small town somewhere, frustrated citizens decide to hold a protest.

These are faint signals of potential change. Some will be anomalous; others will be the beginning of social movements, or new markets.

Unlike well established trends, signals are not necessarily recognized. They have not yet become part of a proven or widely understood pattern of change. They are nascent. But if you are looking for them, you are in a good position to catch them.

Early signals are the basis of true informational advantage. They are grounded in your particular assessment of events, and they are yours alone. They are forward-looking and can help you understand what the business environment may look like in the future.

Turning foresight into advantage: Developing a sense of when to leverage uncertainty

To benefit from recognizing early signals requires action. This is foresight as a skill and it includes systematically exploring signals of potential change in the world, developing a sense of when to act on your insights, and making advance plans to exercise your options when the time is right.

Once you have identified signals suggesting that change is coming, it is important to have a plan of action so that you can benefit from your foresight.

Rather than seeking to bet on “a sure thing” that may have peaked, you can instead seek signals of change when they are nascent. At this point, you have the time to develop options for how you might take advantage of these signals.

Strategic foresight professionals can offer firms seeking to enhance their competitive advantage  structured ways to seek, interpret and use signals of potential change to their benefit.

Contact Prescient to learn more about how we have helped firms use strategic foresight for their benefit. Or watch our short video below to learn more about gaining a competitive advantage for your organization:

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