Telling or Experiencing Foresight

Foresight really only makes sense to people in ways that change how they think about futures when it is experienced, when it is 'felt' - this should be the aim of all foresight process

Telling or Experiencing Foresight

This is an old post, written in 2017 when I was finding my way into the current space I work in now. Still relevant and slightly edited, I write about responding to the challenges as a practitioner finding their unique space in the wide foresight/futures global conversation.

I was invited to Swinburne University's Strategic Foresight class yesterday to talk with them about my experiences at a foresight practitioner. We talked about my journey, what I'd learned and shared the experiences they wanted more information about - how to get into the field, how to tell clients something they don't want to know, what I see as my primary motivation. During the conversation, I realised a couple of things. One was that the reason I probably got such awful student evaluations last year when I 'taught' environmental scanning to a different class of Strategic Foresight students is that I was totally uncomfortable being seen as the sage on stage, the expert with the answers.  I do know a lot about how to do scanning, and I did help people set up scanning systems, use scanning in their work, and help them work out what to do with the outcomes.

But ... I do this WITH them. I 'train' them as they experience the process. They learn from doing the process. I don't give a presentation, tell them why they need to scan, how to scan and then tell them to do it. Well I do, but only as the introduction to what they will be doing. It's the first step. People have to experience the scanning process over time before they truly see the value of doing it, and understand how introducing different sources and different time frames can begin to change how they think about futures.

If I ever get invited to 'teach' again (doubtful), I won't be telling, I'll be getting them to do scanning in the classroom so they can experience the process on both intellectual and 'felt' levels. I should know this, I do know this in my work, but it took me feeling the impact of a big 'fail' before I began to understand just how critical the experience of foresight, the feeling of foresight perhaps, is to freeing up our thinking about our futures. And how important it is to me as a practitioner to not be seen as a sage on stage but as a participant in a collective process.

It's a bit like being told you have to go rough water kayaking or bungy jumping or go skydiving for the amazing experience though. You can understand these might be exciting on a rational level but you won't feel the experience until you do it for real. Of course, understanding the value of these activities on a rational level might just be enough for you - fortunately, using foresight is unlikely to put you in physical danger!

The other thing I realised was that my need to work with people to learn about foresight by doing, by using, and by experiencing is because, as Peter Hayward once said, I have been 'intergralised'. I need to integrate the external practice of doing foresight in the right hand quadrants with the left hand quadrants, where the doing of foresight is experienced in our minds and bodies and where the foresight lightbulb comes on - both as individuals who realise they 'get foresight', and as organisations when thinking about futures enters the organisational vocabulary and starts to shift the culture towards futures. If you don't know what I'm talking about when I use 'quadrants', find out about integral futures here.

The message for me is that foresight really only makes sense to people in ways that change how they think about futures when it is experienced, when it is 'felt' - this should be the aim of all foresight process. I know it is for most practitioners but it took me a while actually grasp how important that was and to pay it more than lip service. Of course, people will need to understand the potential value on an intellectual level as well to let you in the organisational door, while the value and the power of the cognitive skill that is foresight will emerge only as people use foresight themselves in their context.