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Foresight Is Strategy: Innuendo On A Radical Shift Of The Strategic Importance Of Scenarios "Welcome to the never normal" may be the real message of this short essay, and welcome to the era where whoever will be able to master the skills of foresight-ing the future will dominate the world and its outlook.

By Dr. Mark Esposito Edited by Aby Thomas

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Of the many silver linings of the last few years, the ability to engage public and private sectors around the need to think about the future is becoming paramount. From shocks to any forms of wicked problems to geopolitical earthquakes, we all convene on the fact that predictability is under siege.

The challenge is related to how non-linear the future looks, and how much of what we know or used to know, matters less and less in terms of the future. Otherwise said, how much of what we hope we know shapes the direction of the trajectories ahead. This is where a world more responsive to challenges and less reliant on forecasts may become the new norm.

This is not because we are in the wake of an age of sophistication for the sake of it, but more because our global interdependency is now obviously stated and largely advocated by everyone. Those who criticize the global systems, and those who stand up to it, share a common underpinning: we are more converging today than in any point in history. It is not just an aspiration, but a fact. But this convergence didn't prevent us to be culturally and socially diverging, with increasing pockets of tribalism and localization, emerging by the day.

This composition of our global economy has crafted the space for a more serious conversation about the anticipation of the future and its foresights. Scenarios, foresights, and the optionality of the future are now emerging into a solid field of study, with prominent scholars racing to the strategic orientation that the literacy of the future is important and that it will continue to count.

Some time back, together with other co-authors, I had written that corporate foresight could be considered the capability of an organization to interpret changes in the business environment, outline and evaluate its plausible futures based on these changes, and to use that information for sustainable competitive advantage. Using corporate foresight, organizations can reconfigure their strategy based on the analysis of business opportunities suggested by future possibilities.

As you can see from this definition, foresights are all about strategy and strategy propositions. This construct exists in the future and the possibilities of tomorrow, rather than as part of a conventional knowledge elaborated out of aggregation of historical data. In the wake of this significant disruption to our sense of normal, the value of any exercise of foresight is that it systematically analyzes contrasting signals of change that make the environment we are trying to decipher incredibly erratic.

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To that effect, it synthesizes them into plausible futures that, in turn, can be used to derive strategic guidelines and options. In other words, it decomposes the complexity of the world into future states that can be anticipated and prepared for. This sense of anticipation is particularly vivid in the field of megatrends or future trajectories, where the evolution of large-scale events can be observed over a hypothetical curve or trajectory. These anticipatory systems are useful, at the macro level, to see, with anticipation, the direction of a given phenomenon, and, hopefully, inform changes in the present that may be required.

So, while foresights entertain a dance with the possibilities of tomorrow, anticipatory trends are reliable windows into the future, designed to inform the changes of the present, to adjust and correct trajectories. But there is another typology of future studies, which culminates into options.

Options are plausible futures that may emerge/occur, but that do not respond well to normalization of frequency of events; hence, they are often unexpected. They are our greatest ally in the institutionalization of imagination, as they push us to think of a future that might exist but doesn't exist yet. It is about the specificity of a vision of tomorrow that may inspire the aspiration towards it.

Indeed, many futures are aspirational. And some even more, as they borderline the boundaries of moonshots and radical ideas, to challenge the status quo, and to imagine a world well beyond the ceiling of what we think possible, thrusted onto the creation of a future that may be a true stretch from where we are today.

These are all elements of a larger universe of reference where the future becomes a malleable and constructable set of possibilities, where the sky is the limit, and, still, it can be breached through. Future literacy is now entering a stage of our life that resembles more and more like a mainstream acceptance that biography doesn't equal destiny. Faced with some of the daunting challenges humans have ever faced, at a scale of impact unseen before, this generation needs to embrace the idea of the future with a sense of activism and design.

By exploring the nuances among the tools of foresight, we discover that the future is much more about the contention of what kind of society we want to become, rather than the passive by standing of who watches a world unfolding, without being the protagonist of it.

"Welcome to the never normal" may be the real message of this short essay, and welcome to the era where whoever will be able to master the skills of foresight-ing the future will dominate the world and its outlook. It is time now to move to the other side of strategy, where foresights become the beacon of the purest form of strategic thinking. Let's celebrate.

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Dr. Mark Esposito

Professor of Strategy and Economics, Hult International Business School and Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education

Dr. Mark Esposito is recognized internationally as a top global thought leader in matters relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the changes and opportunities that technology will bring to a variety of industries. In 2016, Mark was inducted in the radar of Thinkers50 as one of the 30 most prominent rising business thinkers in the world. He is a global expert of the World Economic Forum and advisor to national governments.  

Mark is Professor of Strategy and Economics at Hult International Business School and at Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education and Affiliate of the Microeconomics of Competitiveness Program at the Harvard Business School. He serves as Senior Advisor to the Strategy& group at PwC.  He is also the co-founder of Nexus FrontierTech, The Circular Economy Alliance, and Excellere.  

He is the co-author of 13 books, among which the bestsellers The AI Republic (2019) and Understanding How the Future Unfolds (2017). His latest book with Cambridge University Press is The Emerging Economies under the Dome of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (2022). His next book on The Great Remobilization: Strategies and Designs for a Smarter Global Future will be published by MIT University Press in 2023.  

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