The rise of information, the decline of knowledge & why we need foresight NOW more than ever!

By Debbie Meltzer
Strategic foresight - why Now?

Strategic Foresight - Why now?

The other day, while chewing on a badly charcoaled barbequed chicken, my cousin, a current affairs TV editor lamented about the new generation of researchers: “Media researchers today she said are merely information agents – they simply relay data. They seldom use learning skills to make sense of what they download at the whim of a click.

And to think – we the public willingly consume these pulverized sound bites slickly packaged by my cousin and her colleagues every time we switch on the box….

This reminds me of one of Jefferson’s famous old comments: “The one who reads the newspapers is worse off than the one who reads none at all.”

So much for today’s information super highways! Sure, they opened us to roaring torrents of data. But in hindsight they haven’t stopped a global financial crisis, prevented massive climate change, halted an oncoming debt crisis or cured poverty (if anything, according to the World Bank another 60 million people plunged into poverty this year). Why? Because just having data streamed at our head is meaningless unless we start filtering it!

Try explaining this to my son who will do anything, ANYTHING to reduce his homework load. The ritual of: Go to Google – copy-paste – hand in assignment and grab a good mark on the way has been polished and perfected by him and his peers.  Perhaps his education system is missing the point; information is a stepping stone to knowledge, but unlike knowledge, it can’t generate new information on its own. And even if they began to develop an understanding of knowledge, the question is how would it help them to adapt, innovate and thrive in the future?

Back to the real culprits – Us. The past two years have been pretty damming evidence of a global management botch up. Even so, some organizations have been profiting while others took a nose dive. Amazon, Nestle, Unilever, and in particular, Verizon are shining examples of companies that posted profit gains.

While other telcos were hemorrhaging – Verizon’s performance was enviable. In the final quarter of 2008, Verizon profits went up 15 percent to $1.2 billion compared to 2007 and wireless subscribers grew by 1.4 million. Companies like Verizon, didn’t just harness innovation, they combined it with business leadership and strategic foresight.

Some are hailing Strategic Foresight as the meta-discipline of the 21st Century.  The level of volatility affecting technology, economics, politics, environmental sustainability and idea-creation increasingly calls for a new set of skills and expertise to navigate possible, probable and preferable futures.

This call stems from an alarming question:  If there is one certainty – that the future will be different from today, why do organizations persistently look to the past to form their decisions about the future?

Despite a rapidly changing global environment, the norm is to rely on historical data to make decisions about the future. So typically most  organizations take today’s trends and project them forward. According to futurist Steven Tigh; “Most strategists and innovators fail here because they get it wrong.  “This”, he says, “is sheer corporate madness.”

Yoyah Group’s home bred version – Reverse Futurism is based on the principle of planning from the future back to the present.   What we are witnessing is; when people and organizations work back from the future as opposed to working forward from the present, they break away from traditional thinking. As a result they begin to foresee future developments not always obvious to their competitors.

When using techniques of looking back from the future to understand where we may be, we discover a new ‘space’ that is very different from the one today. In an environment, where we and our competitors access the same information, where innovation is a “tour de force” in the west as well as in Asia, a capacity to generate and act on different, more accurate images of our eco-system’s future is a huge asset.