The four stages of futures thinking

Scanning for Change

Understand your existing strategic environment

This activity involves learning about change in your strategic environment, which is the starting point for mapping your future.

The strategic environment extends beyond your market, to the cultural, political and natural environment in which the economic and technological future of your organisation will play out.

This activity involves an ethnographic research approach similar to that used in anthropology. It is based on a mixture of interviews, both inside and outside your organisation, plus learning journeys and desk research for background depth and fact checking. This approach captures a diversity of perspectives about your strategic situation and how it is changing.

Future Framing

Keep your future action frame up to date

This activity helps you to understand the futures you may face whether you like it or not. This is the anticipatory and defensive side of working with the future.

It involves a sense-making approach to interpret the future implications of change in your strategic environment. The result is an updated action frame or theory of the future that provides a basis for strategic decision making.

This activity enables you to move beyond existing industry and market-based assumptions and helps you gain insight into how situations could play out, spot potential surprises and discontinuities, and stress-test alternative options for action. The overall aim is to discover the most powerful potentials for your future.

Adaptive Design

Decide future goals and create options for action

This activity involves discovering adaptive and advantage-seeking responses to the nature of your future strategic environment.

This is the active, creative side of working with the future and uses a process similar to design thinking.

It involves the search for an inspiring vision and goal that is both meaningful and pragmatic in terms of your organization’s identity and your future strategic environment.

It also involves creating options for maximizing your strategic leverage and power to achieve your chosen goals.

Futures Leadership

Practice future oriented leadership

This activity is at the heart of leadership. Leaders always face future uncertainty, but if it is their sole future focus it becomes psychologically problematic. To cut through uncertainty, there must be a vision that is inspiring but also realistic. Strategies and tactics must be constantly adjusted, as events disrupt the path to your goal, but without ever losing sight of the bigger picture.

Leaders need to communicate their future vision persuasively, maintain the future goal as a clear intention on behalf of the organisation, and hold focus by resisting anything that would distract or divert the organisation from its forward path.

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