Trend Letter: May 2007 [Briefings Publications]
Spotlight Interview by Hope Katz Gibbs
Volume 26, Number 5
*SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW WITH ANDY HINES: Thinking about the Future
Andy Hines is a leading futurist who in 2006 joined the global research and consulting firm Social Technologies to manage its consulting practice. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston MS Program in Futures Studies, a program he graduated from in 1990.
He spent more than six years at the futurist organization Coates & Jarratt, where he became a partner. Later, he ran the global trends Program for Kellogg and then was the senior ideation leader at Dow Chemical Co.
Hines’ new book, “Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight” hit bookstores in February. Co-edited by professor Peter Bishop, the 231-page paperback- distills the expertise of 36 world-renowned futurists into a scannable reference guide.
Trend Letter: First, can you tell us exactly what a futurist is and how you help a corporation plan for the future?
Andy Hines: Although it sounds very Space Age, a futurist simply helps organizations anticipate and manage the future—or more specifically, we help them anticipate, understand, prepare for and then act on the future. At Social Technologies, our focus is on the areas of foresight, strategy and innovation. Some of the clients we work with include
General Mills, Johnson Controls, MTV and Nokia, among other Fortune 500 firms, as well as government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Our staff members also track global lifestyle and technology trends, and that is interesting because we look around the world and see how the pieces of those two disparate areas fit together. We explore the drivers of change and how they will impact people and organizations five, 10, 15 or 50 years from now.
TL: What inspired you to write your new book, “Thinking about the Future,” and how do you think it will help organizations better plan for tomorrow?
Hines: My fellow professor Peter Bishop and I saw that more people were getting involved in doing foresight, but they lacked an easy-to-follow reference guide to help them accomplish their goals. So we spent the better part of two years assembling, organizing and harmonizing our book. We drew on the good will, and good foresight practices, of three dozen of our colleagues from around the globe to provide what we believe are the essential guidelines for carrying out a successful strategic foresight project.
We wanted to write it, quite simply, because we believe there has perhaps never been a time in human history when strategic foresight is more needed. Global change is occurring at such an incredible speed, but because the future is not predetermined or predictable, future outcomes can be influenced by our choices in the present. That is where strategic foresight comes into play.
TL: What exactly is strategic foresight?
Hines: It is a discipline consisting of a wide variety of tools to help leaders make better, more informed decisions in today’s constantly shifting, increasingly complex global environment. So when analyzing the future of an organization, a product or an idea, it is valuable to use foresight. In the book, we break the analysis down into six phases: framing, scanning, forecasting, visioning, planning and acting.
Each section is then broken down further with a description, rationale, case example and resources for further study. Each week we actually post one of the case studies from the book on our Social Technologies blog, http://changewaves.socialtechnologies.com, so even if businesspeople don’t buy the book, they can get a feel for how to use strategic foresight.
TL: Please give us an example of one of the case studies.
Hines: Well, in the first chapter, where we talk about framing, we explain that the best way to have positive expectations about the future is to adjust your attitude today. We note that a positive attitude does not imply a naive belief that “we will get lucky.” Rather, a negative attitude toward the future can limit one’s capacity to change the course of events.
A good example is Graphisoft, a small Hungarian architectural firm founded in 1982. At the time, IT support for architects was not oriented to PC users and any software that existed required powerful backup. But [leaders at] Graphisoft strongly believed in a positive future for PCs. And they believed even more in their organization’s capacity for innovation. So in 1984, the organization released the first 3-D architectural CAD software, ArchiCAD, which it developed with Apple Computer. That established Graphisoft as a major international player, and today it is firmly established in Germany, the United States and Japan.
TL: That definitely paints a vivid picture. You know, when I read the book, I came away with the impression that strategic foresight would be a beneficial tool for almost anyone.
Hines: The truth is that the lure of long-term change can be compelling. Many who are bitten by the foresight bug seem to develop a chronic condition where they become determined to learn more about the future.
THE 6 PHASES OF STRATEGIC FORESIGHT
In “Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight,” author Andy Hines offers business leaders a six-step approach for analyzing the future.
• Framing: Define the scope and focus of problems requiring strategic foresight. The premise is that taking time at the outset of a project to clarify the objective-and how to address it-will pay big dividends in the later phases.
*• Scanning: * Once your team is clear about the boundaries and scope of an activity, begin to scan the internal and external environments for information and trends relating to the issue at hand. Internally, the team wants to learn the organization’s experience with an issue. Externally, the team immerses itself in what’s going on regarding the issue. The goal is to come up with a mix of basic driving forces that suggests the most likely future and potential change-drivers.
• Forecasting: Forecasting involves creating models of alternative futures. Most organizations tend to believe the future is going to be like the past. The key is to challenge that view and prod organizations to take seriously the possibility that things may not continue as they have. In practice, they rarely do.
• Visioning: Bring the consideration of the future back to the present by addressing the question “So what?” That is, given the future possibilities outlined by forecasting, where does the organization want to go?
• Planning: Translate the vision into a strategy consisting of tactics leading directly to action.
• Acting: The ultimate purpose of strategic foresight is to make better, more informed decisions in the present. So
acting-the final phase-is largely about communicating information to decision makers and making the
abstract progressively more concrete.
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