3 ways leaders use foresight to make better decisions


5 minute read

Each day leaders face the challenge of prioritizing their work in order to give the right amount of attention to the right things. It’s well-known that being busy does not necessarily mean you’re being productive. As a leader, there always seem to be more things demanding your attention- more than you have time – or really, cognitive ability, to focus on. So how do you break through the noise to get perspective and make better decisions?

The practice of “zooming out” is a skill that designers and creatives use regularly to reframe complex problems – especially when they’re feeling stuck. For leaders, zooming out is also a way to get perspective in order to better prioritize and create a strategy of what to focus on. One method of zooming out that designers and leaders alike are increasingly turning to is that of strategic foresight.

The practice of foresight is an approach that allows leaders to understand what’s changing, map possible scenarios, and make strategic choices. In the face of rapid change, great uncertainty, and significant ambiguity, foresight offers a way to get perspective and make better decisions – decisions that you can really be confident in. Let’s take a closer look at 3 ways that leaders use foresight to make better decisions.

01 – Understand what’s changing

The process of foresight is founded on the practice of horizon scanning – looking around at what’s changing in order to better understand the context in which your problem (read: product, service, business – or any other challenge) exists. The term “horizon” is intentional. It indicates that you’re in a position where you can see far into the distance, towards the horizon. To get to this place, you often have to get some distance from the metaphorical “buildings” that are built by your day-to-day tasks and take some time to look around.

But what does this actually look like?

You’re likely already doing many of the activities that underpin horizon scanning – browsing LinkedIn, reading articles, books, blogs, newsletters. But rather than passively scrolling, horizon scanning is an active approach of looking for patterns, synergies, and possibilities and paying attention to signals of change and emerging trends.

In order to do this, it’s important to ensure that you’re looking beyond just your own newsfeed. Often when we think of the future, we look through the lens of technology to understand how things will be different. But it’s also important to consider implications of policy changes, as well as changes in the economy, environment, and socio-cultural values. In this active role of paying attention to what’s changing, it’s important to hold an open mind and consider what “may never happen”. As we’ve seen in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, many of these “may never happen” possibilities have actually come to be.

For leaders, horizon scanning is a way to understand what’s changing. With this perspective, you are able to make more well-informed decisions. But with so much changing, there is still a question about what to really pay attention to.

02 – Map possible outcomes

Horizon scanning is an important practice to help “zoom out” and get perspective but if that’s where you stop, you’ll be left with an overwhelming sense along the lines of, “Yup, there’s lots changing!*”

For leaders, horizon scanning is only as good as what you do with it. Once you’ve identified emerging trends and signals of change, you can then start to map possible outcomes or future scenarios. There are many possible ways that the future can play out and as a leader it’s important to take the time to consider different scenarios so that you have an understanding of how it might impact your team and your business *before* you find yourself in the middle of a new reality.

There are many approaches and frameworks for scenario planning but they have a few things in common. First, building scenarios requires that you set a timeframe. Are you looking out 5 years? 10 years? Maybe 50? This will impact how you frame the scenario and how the trends and emerging changes that you identified might look at that point in time.

Second, because we do not know how the future will play out, it’s important to consider a range of possible scenarios or options. There are a number of frameworks, methodologies and archetypes that you can use to guide this process.

Finally, once you have a timeframe and a framework, you can then start to identify the trends or changes that will be the most defining for each scenario and how these trends will interplay with one another to shape that possible future. Equipped with an understanding of possible future scenarios, you’ll be positioned to make better decisions for your team and your business.

03 – Make strategic choices

Leaders using foresight to make better decisions are most concerned with mitigating the risks for any strategy they decide to move forward with. Through foresight, leaders are able to develop many possible strategies that they could take in response to the scenarios they identified.

With a long list of possible responses, leaders are able to conduct a stress-testing exercise to understand how well the strategy would hold up not just in the scenario it was designed for, but also in the face of any other possible future that may unfold. Through the rigour of this work, leaders are able to develop a confidence in the choices that they decide to present to their teams and introduce to their business.

These are just three ways that leaders are able to use foresight to make better decisions. The practice of actively paying attention to what’s changing and having a rigorous methodology for developing scenarios and response strategies not only helps leaders better navigate uncertainty, it will also help you have greater confidence that you’re moving into the future with resilience for whatever it may bring.

*To learn more about the methods, tools, frameworks and rigour that leaders use to implement foresight with their teams, check out our new course, Leading with Foresight.

Like this article? Please share!