What is Foresight?

Let’s explore exactly what foresight is - and is not.

What is Foresight?

Defining Foresight

The term foresight is familiar but its use in the context of thinking about futures is quite specific. For me, foresight is a cognitive activity, one that is grounded in an innate human capacity to imagine new futures. We apply foresight in any range of contexts to help people think about futures.

I use Peter Hayward’s definition of foresight:

a  cognitive construct, something that an individual assembles in their  consciousness, and then acts as if this construct carries significance  for the real world … [it is] a capability which operates to increase the  biological continuation of a human organism by reducing risk, employing  prudence, and taking care.

The term foresight is also used in many different ways as an adjective - for example, narrative foresight, strategic foresight, technology foresight. Here, foresight is considered to be enabled by a neurological process - called episodic foresight - that we all use every day, and which moves from an unconscious mode to consciousness as we become aware of how we use foresight in our lives and work. Becoming aware of our foresight means that we explicitly challenge our assumptions about the types of futures that are available to us in the present, and which ones we accept and reject.

Foresight Capacities

Foresight is a capacity that can be developed through the use of well-designed futures processes that enable assumptions to be challenged and new futures to be imagined. Foresight processes allow us to face the quandary of how to engage with something that our minds tell us is not real and to challenge the ontological logic that risks us becoming victims of what I call assumption walls": brick walls in our thinking that keep us trapped in the present.

Foresight then is the capacity that enables us to include 'the future' in our present - both in our thinking and our actions - in the same way that we now include the past in our consideration of the present.

Finally, here is a video from Stuart Candy that does a very good job of explaining the basics of foresight.

My Perspective

Without active foresight, where we recognise the nature of our foresight capacities, our minds retreat to what we know, we reject the unknown and revert to our unchallenged assumptions, and the focus on finding ‘the right future’. The result is that we generate futures that assume the present will continue - more or less - and that constrains the actions we take in the present.

You will find many definitions of foresight I am sure, and most will be valid in context. For me, foresight is first and foremost a state of mind, a cognitive capacity that we can develop over time to expand and deepen our thinking about futures.