WHAT IS STRATEGIC FORESIGHT/FUTURES STUDIES?
Futures Studies or Strategic Foresight is still a new field, with the world’s first students graduating only in 1979 in the US. There are currently fewer than 50 universities worldwide that offer degree qualifications in it, and only one of those is in Africa. As a result, very few people are even aware that it actually exists as a formal field of study.
Two key world events were critical in the development of Strategic Foresight/Futures Studies as a formal field of study.
The first was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii in December 1941 during WW II. US Air Force Generals were taken aback that they had not anticipated the attack. In an attempt to anticipate where and how the next attack might occur, they developed and began using new methodologies, including scenario planning.
The second was the oil crisis of October 1973, in which the price of crude oil increased by an unprecedented 440% per barrel – from $2.50 to $11 within just a few weeks. As a response to Western support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War, oil producing countries in the Middle East imposed an oil embargo on them – which led to the price escalation. The world was caught by complete surprise, and many economies and corporations were very negatively affected. Royal Dutch/Shell was the first and only major corporation that was using scenario planning at the time, which it began using in the late 1960’s. Because it was better prepared, its recovery was quicker than other oil companies.
Methodologies that were initially used for strategic military planning evolved into an important multidisciplinary field. Its degrees are either called Strategic Foresight or Futures Studies, depending on the university, and its practitioners are Foresight Strategists or Professional Futurists. Both titles are used interchangeably.
Rather than being about predictions, Futures Studies involves the use of systematic thinking by analysing the links between a wide variety of factors and what their possible long term impact may be. The outcomes are then assessed to better understand how the future might unfold. It is an interdisciplinary field which uses a diverse range of forecasting methodologies, techniques, tools and principles. It is, therefore, both a science and an art – piecing together a very broad range of dynamics in its analysis.
As the world becomes more advanced and globalised, it also becomes more complex and increasingly unpredictable.
In a rapidly changing world, the ability to interpret and influence your environment can make the difference between securing your relevance in tomorrow’s world, or an irreversible error for your organisation’s future.
Corporations, organisations, governments, NGO’s and any stakeholder that has to perform any kind of planning and who seek to strategically secure and entrench their relevance in tomorrow’s world are beginning to appreciate the extremely important role of Professional Futurists in empowering their strategic decisions.
Through their understanding of highly complex and volatile environments, their ability to interpret emerging trends and analyse future possibilities, the role of the Foresight Strategist/Professional Futurist is to work with you in ensuring that you stay ahead by strategically shaping today’s developments for tomorrow’s success.