Berlin, University of Technology, Chair for Technology and Innovation Management,
Strasse des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, Germany
HANS GEORG GEMÜNDENii
Berlin, University of Technology, Chair for Technology and Innovation Management,
Strasse des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Abstract – Although in the last three decades much knowledge has been produced on how best
to conduct foresight exercises, but little is known on how foresight should be integrated with the
innovation effort of a company. Drawing on empirical evidence from 19 case studies and 107
interviews, we identify three roles that corporate foresight should play to maximize the innovation
capacity of a firm: (1) the strategist role, which explores new business fields; (2) the initiator role,
which increases the number of innovation concepts and ideas; and (3) the opponent role, which
challenges innovation projects to increase the quality of their output.
Keywords: corporate foresight, innovation management, technology intelligence, competitive
intelligence, best practices, dynamic capabilities
Corporate Foresight: Its Three Roles in Enhancing
the Innovation Capacity of a Firm
Corporate Foresight: Its Three Roles in Enhancing the Innovation Capacity of a Firm
Rohrbeck, R. and H. G. Gemünden
Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 78(2), 231-243.
This is a preprint. Final article can be found at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2010.06.019
When asked about the direction research on foresight should follow, scholars come to different
conclusions. Some argue that new tools are needed . Others point to the lack of help for
practitioners to find the right tools , concluding that education is needed to create foresight
literacy [3, 4]. A third group highlights the need to develop mechanisms to allow for more
participation of stakeholders [5-7] and thus increase the impact of foresight activities [8-13].
This paper agrees on the importance of these suggestions, but argues that none of them can
ensure the success of foresight exercises in a corporate context. This article argues that it is important
to view matters from the perspective of the users of the results of corporate foresight exercises. Only
then will it be possible to create a holistic understanding of possible impacts and drive the discussion
on how to use foresight to create value and increases the competitiveness of a firm.
Based on our literature review in the strategic management field, we argue that corporate
foresight should be expected to support the renewal of the portfolio of strategic resources. These
strategic resources have been highlighted as the basis of the competitive advantage of a firm .
The ability to renew the portfolio of strategic resources when faced with external (discontinuous)
change has been described as ‘dynamic capabilities’ . We therefore propose to judge corporate
foresight on its contribution to this ability.
More specifically we aim to explore the ability of corporate foresight to increase the innovation
capacity of a firm. We differentiate into the capacity to innovate incrementally, i.e. enhanced or new
products and services within current business field and the capacity to innovate radically, i.e. creating
products and services in new business fields often using new technologies.
The literature review provides guidance to observe the impact of corporate foresight on the
innovation capacity of a firm.
To explore the impact of corporate foresight on the innovation capacity we collected empirical
evidence from 19 multinational companies. Of a total of 107 interviews, 42 were conducted with
internal stakeholders, generating insight into how foresight results are used within the company.
Through cross-case analysis, we are able to create an understanding of the ways in which corporate
foresight activities can contribute to the innovation capacity of a firm.
2 LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Creating and sustaining a competitive advantage
Research following the resource-based view has shown that companies use certain strategic
resources to out-compete their rivals. To be of competitive value, these resources need to have three
characteristics. They should be (1) appropriable—i.e., difficult to imitate, substitute, or transfer; (2)
scarce; and (3) in demand—i.e., the resource needs to yield a competitive advantage .
Research on dynamic capabilities has shown that these resources lose their competitive
relevance over time [16-18]. Thus, companies need to develop new resources in order to maintain
their competitiveness [15, 19]. This renewal of resources needs to follow the rate of corporate
change, which has been shown to occur in long periods of slow, incremental change and short
periods of rapid discontinuous or radical change [20-22].
Studies have repeatedly emphasized that companies find it difficult to adapt quickly enough in
times of discontinuous change and can find themselves in life-threatening situations [23-25]. One
study calculated the average life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies to be less than 40 years. This
high mortality rate was the result of their failure to adapt in a timely manner to discontinuous change
2.2 Why firms find it difficult to renew their products and organizations
Research on innovation management, strategic management, and corporate foresight has
pointed to three major reasons why companies fail to adapt to external change in an effective and
First, the high rate of change: In the past three decades, various empirical investigations have
been conducted to prove the normative perception that the rate of change is increasing. Some
evidence has been identified, for the following:
• Shortening of product life cycles [27, 28]
• Increased technological change 
• Increased innovation speed [30-32]
• Increased speed of the diffusion of innovations 
Second, ignorance: Many organizations fail to perceive discontinuous change. This ignorance
has been attributed to four underlying reasons:
• A time frame that is too short, so that the corporate strategic-planning cycles, which are still
coupled with the fiscal-year cycle, fail to produce a timely response .
• Announcing signals may stay undetected because they are outside the reach of corporate
sensors. This failure has been attributed to the nature of corporate sensors, which need to focus on a
search area and thus by their very nature leave spaces undetected that are at the periphery of the
search focus [35-37].
• Top management suffers from an overflow of information and lacks the capacity to assess the
potential impact of the issue at hand [38, 39].
• Information does not reach the appropriate management level that can understand the impact
of an issue and/or that has the hierarchical power to decide on appropriate actions .
• Filtering by middle management, which may follow its own agenda, aiming, for example, to
protect its own business unit .
Third, inertia: If a company has perceived a change in the environment with a potentially high
impact, it needs to (1) define and plan appropriate actions and (2) implement them. Research has
pointed to four underlying reasons for the inertia of large companies:
• Complexity of internal structures. Most large companies have to deal with two types of
complexity: regional reach (forcing firms to build complex multinational sales structures) and
product range (forcing firms to build, for example, regionally differentiated product portfolios) .
• Complexity of external structures. In recent decades, cost pressure has forced companies to
outsource parts of their production to other companies and thus forced them to build complex supply-
chain networks in which they are bound to several companies [43-45]. Today, this networking with
other companies has reached beyond supply chain and production to include research  and
strategic new-product development .
• Large companies have built structures that protect and reinforce their successful lines of
business. The downside of these protective structures is a lack of willingness to cannibalize that
prevents the initiation of activities in new business fields [48-52].
• The current technological capabilities of companies lead to a cognitive inertia that inhibits
them from perceiving external technological breakthroughs .
2.3 What we know about the capabilities needed for managing discontinuous change
Research on how organizations can successfully manage discontinuous change has been
approached from three research perspectives: (1) strategic management, (2) innovation management,
and (3) managing the future.
The strategic management perspective assumes that when faced with external change
organizations can alter, and indeed have to alter, their strategy and organization [54, 55]. It has been
shown that environmental scanning is needed to create sound, up-to-date knowledge about the
direction and magnitude of emerging external change [24, 56-58]. This task is particularly
challenging, because corporate change is characterized by long periods of slow, incremental change
and short periods of rapid discontinuous or radical change [22, 59]. Thus, companies need two types
• The ability to adapt incrementally and exploit current business in times of incremental change
• The ability to adapt radically and explore new markets and business opportunities in times of
For the ability to simultaneously exercise both abilities, the term organizational ambidexterity
has been proposed [60-63].
The innovation management perspective incorporates research streams that discuss similar
concepts. Research has explored the ways in which companies can gain and maintain a competitive
advantage in times of discontinuous change by
• Acquiring new technologies [64-66]
• Linking emerging technologies to new customer needs [52, 67]
• Initiating new R & D projects to use the window of opportunity created by the
discontinuous change [68, 69]
• Promoting specific personal traits on radical innovation teams 
• Finding and binding promoters and champions of radical innovations 
• Building separate organizations for developing radical and incremental innovations 
In addition, the concept of absorptive capacity enlightened companies on how they can
develop their ability to acquire new capabilities and use them to create a competitive advantage [73-
75]. Similar concepts such as network competence explain the development and exploitation of
innovation networks from the perspective of a focal firm [76, 77]. More recently, the network and
collaborative innovation perspective were merged under the term open innovation. The term has
been used to express the ability of an organization to sense change and acquire needed capabilities
The managing the future perspective aimed at identifying methods to systematically explore
the future. In the corporate context the assumption is that change occurs slow enough so that future
researchers will detect it in time and the firm can produce adequate responses (even though the
response can be expected to be slow) [81, 82]. In the 50s up to the 80s future research aimed
particularly at forecasting future developments by using s-curves, mathematical modeling, and
Delphi studies [83-85].
In the 1990s, the limitations of forecasting became apparent, and future research moved away
from attempting to predict the future toward identifying possible, probable, plausible, and preferable
futures [9, 86, 87]. Future research today aims more at discovering undetected currents that will
influence the future and at mapping uncertainty by including potential discontinuities [88-90].
Exceptions to this rule can be found, particularly within the national foresight programs. These
continue to aim at identifying the technologies that yield the greatest economic and social benefit in
order to then provide additional research funding to foster their development [2, 91, 92]. But even in
national foresight activities, a gradual move toward more qualitative analysis such as scenarios or
visions has been reported [9, 93].
Concerning the application of future research in the corporate context, it has been emphasized
that it needs to be further integrated into the company’s process landscape and organizational
structure to create an impact and add value .
The review of past research has revealed several recommendations on how to manage
discontinuous change. It has also confirmed that the goal of explaining the way in which a stable,
integrated, and comprehensive future-oriented management system can be built has not been
One reason is that the three research perspectives have largely failed to build on one another.
There remains a lack of cross-referencing among scholars of strategic management, innovation
management, and managing the future. Another reason is the cross-functional nature of future
orientation. In management practices, the role of scanning for external change on emerging change is
assumed by different functional units, including strategic management, R & D, corporate
development, and controlling. This makes it difficult for scholars to find appropriate informants on
the future-oriented management systems of a firm.
3 RESEARCH DESIGN
The objective of this research, therefore, is to help increase the implementation of corporate
foresight in companies. More specifically, the aims are too broaden knowledge of (1) the impact and
value creation of corporate foresight and (2) its role in enhancing the innovation capacity of a firm.
3.1 Research strategy
For research fields that are relatively new and about which the knowledge is limited, a
qualitative research design is recommended [95-97]. Case studies are particularly suited to ensuring a
strong qualitative base on which to produce useful and valid theory, while reducing the risk of
oversimplification associated particularly with quantitative research based on statistical modeling
In our study, we used a multiple case-study design for its strength in developing theory which
is more robust, more generalizable, and better testable than that of a single case study .
3.2 Sample and case selection
In case-study research, each case should be selected for a special purpose and contribute to
answering the research question in different ways . Case-study research follows a theoretical
sampling logic. The sampling is unlike that of large-scale statistical research not driven by achieving
a representation of the whole population [96, 100]. Cases are chosen and added to the sample for
replication, extension, contrary replication, and elimination of alternative explanations of a
Because we aim to define a maturity model that can be applied to any organization, we aimed
for a high level of generalizability. For that reason, this study uses companies that are different from
each other in industry and position in the value chain and from their primary business driver, which
can be either technology or the market. This made it possible to discover new phenomena
(extension), to search for the same phenomenon in different companies (replication), and to check
the limits of application by finding cases in which the particular element of a corporate foresight
system is not being used (contrary replication).
The focus of the study was on five case-study clusters (see Table 1). In these clusters, the
identified phenomena have been described and compared using replication and contrary-replication
logic. After studying and interpreting the cases within the five clusters, we conducted two additional
cases to extend the data on particular phenomena.
Table 1: Case study sample
Bosch Siemens Hausgeräte
General Electric Energy
Deutsche Bank Research
Fashion (Manufacturer, Retailer)
In the case of the Deutsche Bank Research (the research unit of the financial institution) the
focus was on observing a specific way of using scenario analysis. At Hugo Boss, the aim was to
study a specific approach of customer foresight, which has been identified in the Volkswagen case.
3.3 Data-collection instruments
Regarding data collection, it is important to use several sources of evidence to ensure the
triangulation of information [95, 101]. For data collection, many instruments are available, among
them documents, archival records, interviews, direct observation, participant observation, and
physical artifacts .
Interviews are particularly useful when the aim is to investigate strategic phenomena, where
informants need to reflect on their everyday practices . In comparison to other instruments,
interviews are also more flexible, allowing researchers to adapt to the context of the interviewee and
The study uses four data collection instruments. The three major instruments are interviews,
internal documents, and external academic publications by the foresight manager. In addition to
these classic instruments, interview templates have been used to allow for direct validation of our
interpretation of the responses during the interviews.
• The interviews were guided semi-structured and supported by templates that were filled in
with the informant. This made it possible to structure the interview but provided enough flexibility to
follow up on any new phenomenon that was brought up during the interview. In total, 107 interviews
were conducted. At the start of each interview, the informant was asked for permission to record the
conversation to prevent data loss and increase validity [102, 103]. This made it possible to record
80% of the interviews, all of which have been transcribed. Interviews that were not recorded were
documented with the interview templates and by minutes of memory, which were cross-checked by a
second researcher. Each interview lasted from one to two hours. In each interview, the research
objective, research framework, and key concepts were described in order to avoid misunderstanding.
To enhance the objectivity of context analysis, a standardized questionnaire was used. This
questionnaire consisted of four sections: (1) company profile, (2) nature of strategy, (3) complexity
of environment, and (4) volatility of environment.
• The templates were used to capture information such as organizational structures, innovation
processes. They are a standardized form into which the informant draws or fills-in his or her data.
The templates were refined and enhanced throughout the case-study phase. The latest version
consisted of seven templates: (1) goals, (2) actors, (3) process, (4) methods, (5) organizational
structure, (6) information sources, and (7) value contribution.
• The internal documents consisted mostly of presentations on processes, results, and the
working documents of foresight projects. In addition, organizational charts, annual-report
presentations, and general company presentations were collected for analysis of the company’s
• In some cases, companies provided academic publications on their management practices.
These were primarily used for clarification and for understanding the logic behind their practices.
The amount of data collected in the case studies varied, as the research aim was not to compare
the case studies but to ensure the identification of as many aspects as possible. In Table 2, an
overview of the number of data sets per case study is given.
Table 2: Data structured by case and collection instrument
Data collection instruments
Data collection instruments
Deutsche Bank Research
It can be seen that a particular emphasis—in terms of amount of collected data—was put on the
cases of Deutsche Telekom, Telekom Austria, Volkswagen, and Vattenfall Europe. The reason is that
they were used for defining the initial version of the maturity model. The following cases were then
used for validation and for identification of additional elements of foresight capabilities. Fewer data,
therefore, were required.
3.4 Key informants
One methodological shortcoming of past research was an exclusive usage of foresighters (i.e.,
an employee whose job is to scan the environment for weak signals on change) as informants. This
creates two concerns: First, the data could be subject to an informant bias, where the informant is
overstating the impact of his work. Second, it is likely that only a limited range of foresight activities
will be identified, particularly because it can be expected that in an organization several units carry
out such activities and, as we have seen in our research, they are not necessarily aware of each other.
Our strategy to overcome this shortcoming was to use three informant perspectives: that of the
internal customer, that of the corporate foresight activity manager, and that of the corporate foresight
• The internal customer is the person who uses foresight results (i.e., information on emerging
change) to plan and execute actions to counter threats and seize opportunities. He is the key
informant for value creation and context aspects. In addition, he can report on the capabilities from a
more objective perspective, i.e., he will most likely have a reduced fake-good bias, as he is not
reporting on the results of his own work.
• The activity manager is the person in charge of the corporate foresight activity. He is not
necessarily the person who executes the activity. The activity manager is the key informant for
explaining the motivation, goals, and logic of the corporate foresight activity as well as the
organizational setting and characteristics of the foresighters (i.e., the activity team) on his team or in
the company in general. He may also be a good informant for the capabilities if he has enough
knowledge of the actual execution of the activity.
• On the activity team, informants were questioned who are executing corporate foresight
activities. They are the key informants on information usage, methods, and networks. Their reporting
on value creation may be subject to the fake-good bias and was considered with care.
Particular emphasis was put on recruiting a high number of informants with the internal-
customer perspective. The number of informants per case and perspective is given in Table 3.
Table 3: Interviews structured by case and position of informant
Position of Informant
Position of Informant
Deutsche Bank Research
It can be seen that different emphases were made in different cases. For example, the Deutsche
Telekom case was used primarily to explore the usage of foresight results and their value creation,
while GE Energy, Telekom Austria, and Vattenfall Europe were used to thoroughly investigate how
organizations identify and interpret weak signals on emerging change.
3.5 Data reduction and coding
The large amount of data gathered in a case study poses a challenge to researchers. The data
need to be reduced in number in order to be crisp and to allow focused conclusions to be derived
. At the same time, the data need to be rich and extensive enough to allow for an adequate
account of contextual information . In this study, the transcripts alone run to more than 1,600
pages, and additional data from internal presentations, publications, and templates add another 500
pages. To handle so much data, electronic text-analysis software is recommended. For our research,
we used the qualitative research tool NVIVO 8. This software makes it possible to store any kind of
document and organize it by information source and content.
To make sense of the data, it is recommended that one use a category system for coding
them—a process that involves attaching keywords (the codes) to words, sentences, or diagrams in the
documents . In this study, the system of codes was created both deductively from literature and
inductively from collected data (defining new codes for interesting aspects that are identified while
reading the documents).
To create confidence that a phenomenon can be generalized, it should be identified and named
by more than one informant. The average number of informants who have commented on the
elements of the maturity model is twenty-one, and the least referenced element was identified by
three informants and explained in eight sentences. As most elements are based on a high number of
accounts of independent informants (i.e. different companies and different industries), we are
confident to have identified elements that are relevant for both the overall ability of corporate
foresight and for firms in different context.
3.6 Drawing conclusions and verifying data
In case-study research, there are three options for drawing conclusions: first, follow a
theoretical framework, second, identify and test rival explanations, and third, make a case description
[95, 106]. This research uses the theoretical proposition that corporate foresight can enhance the
innovation capacity. In addition, inductive reasoning is applied to create a category system that
makes it possible to identify the impact of corporate foresight activities on innovation management.
From this process, eleven major impacts of corporate foresight have been identified. These have been
clustered in the next step into three groups, which have been translated into three roles.
For confirmation of the collected evidence, the transcripts have been sent to the informants for
review. For validation of the interpretation and conclusion, we organized two practitioner
conferences in which the case study participants and additional companies had the opportunity to
comment on the results. This feedback was used to refine and further specify the three roles.
Through cross-case analysis, we were able to identify three generic roles that corporate
foresight can play to enhance the innovation capacity of a firm (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The three roles of corporate foresight in innovation management
Using a four-step innovation process as a frame of reference, the three roles can be positioned
at the start of the innovation funnel (initiator role), outside the innovation funnel (strategist role) and
along the innovation funnel (opponent role). Within these three roles, activities are conducted to
boost the innovation capability of the company:
• In the strategist role, corporate foresight directs innovation activities by creating a vision,
providing strategic guidance, consolidating opinions, assessing and repositioning innovation
portfolios, and identifying the new business models of competitors.
• In the initiator role, corporate foresight triggers innovation initiatives by identifying new
customer needs, technologies, and product concepts of competitors.
Idea generation Selection CommercializationDevelopment
Challan ge bas ic ass umpt ions (cus tomer nee ds , tec hnolo gical dev elop ment, p olit ical and regu lato ry iss ues)
Challan ge stat e-of-the-art of current R&D projec ts
Scan for disruptions that might endanger current and future innovaitons
Ide ntif y ne w need s
Ide ntif y ne w tech nolo gi es
Ide ntif y c omp eti tor‘ s co nce pts
Create visi ons
Provide strategic guidance
Cons olid ate op inion s
Assess and reposition R&D
Ide ntif y ne w bus iness mo dels
and chang es in bus iness log ic
• In the opponent role, corporate foresight challenges the innovators to create better and more
successful innovations by challenging basic assumptions, challenging the state-of-the-art of current R
& D projects, and scanning for disruptions that could endanger current and future innovations.
4.1 The initiator role
From Figure 1, it can be seen that corporate foresight in the initiator role directly feeds into the
innovation process. The initiator triggers new innovation initiatives, including new R & D projects
and new process or business-model innovations. In so doing, he feeds the innovation funnel, which
in turn is the basis for an increase in quantity and quality of innovative output.
Most companies that had a corporate foresight system with strong emphasis on the initiator role
had also installed process links to the innovation process. Only two companies did not have a process
link, preferring to communicate the insights through the Intranet, mailing lists, and a printed report.
They aim to use corporate foresight for creating input but place the responsibility for taking action on
the individual innovation managers.
Concerning the areas of foresight activity within the initiator role, three distinct input clusters
have been found (see Table 4):
Table 4: Impact of initiator role
Impact of Initiator Role
Identify new needs
Socio-cultural change and/or
change in customer needs generates
new needs that will trigger
“In particular, I feel that we need to be
dialogue-oriented. Just placing a questionnaire
in front of the customer is not good enough.”
“Today, products need not only to have a good
usability; they need to be cool. I sell shampoo
only through emotions; the ingredients are of
Scanning in science and technology
enables companies to create new
products and brace against
disruptive and substitution
“We have ten strategic areas; in each, we define
the reach, scope, and technology surveillance
“Technology watch is a continuous process; it
is used for R & D projects.”
Impact of Initiator Role
Monitoring activities of competitors
is the basis for anticipating their
future actions and planning the
company’s innovation activities.
“We need to be alert. There are constantly new
business ideas and new start-ups. Technology
foresight is easy for us, but exploring future
changes by competitive intelligence is much
more complex and much more difficult.”
The most quoted impact is the identification of new customer requirements through analyzing
cultural shifts and collecting the needs of lead customers. An example is a large scouting project
conducted by Volkswagen. Motivated by dropping sales in the U.S. market, Volkswagen decided to
move a team of 23 managers to the Los Angeles area for 18 months, to live and work there. The team
was recruited from all relevant functional units in Volkswagen, among them R & D, after-sales
service, marketing, sales, and controlling. As part of the project, the team conducted home stays in
which they lived with the families of lead customers for two or three days, interviewed community
leaders, and immersed themselves in the American way of life. The goal was to understand the
specific requirements of the U.S. car customer. These projects led to the discovery of new
requirements and future customer needs that were fed into the innovation process.
The second impact is the identification of emerging technologies by scanning the science and
technology environment. In our sample of 19 companies, 13 have installed a continuous technology-
scanning activity. A typical activity tracks between 200 and 400 technologies and assesses their
maturity. A list is then produced of technologies in which the estimated time of technological
maturity and the time for deployment in products are given. This allows the companies to link the
planning of new product categories to future emerging technologies. This linkage is often supported
by roadmapping workshops and/or IT-based road-mapping tools.
A third cluster of impacts is the identification of new competitor concepts by monitoring R &
D projects, patenting activities, and the new product launch announcements of the competitors.
Deutsche Telekom uses a network of scouts to monitor major competitors as well as the start-up
community in relevant fields. The scouting results are consolidated and published in a “Product &
Service” Radar which features:
• A radar screen on which the competitor’s concepts are positioned in a grid structured into
expected time to launch and application/business field
• A one-page description of the product or service concept
• A “tracker” that reports on major changes in the application fields
Respondents have noted that the initiator role has been crucial when dealing with new business
fields and in times of discontinuous technological change. When aiming for incremental innovations
in existing business fields, most informants judged it sufficient to rely on intelligence by business
4.2 The strategist role
The strategist role is not directly linked to the innovation process. It provides guidance for the
innovation effort and directs innovation activity toward new and promising business fields. The
strategist role has been created by clustering five distinct impacts, which are described in Table 5.
Table 5: Impact of strategist role
Impact of Strategist Role
Assessing and repositioning
of innovation portfolios
Corporate foresight provides the
future insights to change innovation
“(Our technology intelligence) supports the
analysis of our project portfolio.”
“We use the information (from foresighting) for
our product planning for the coming years.”
“(On the basis of the foresight insights) we
have changed the product portfolio in China
and the United States and introduced four new
cars in China and three in the United States.”
Providing strategic guidance
Future insights are used to define
“Our most important goal when we do scenario
analysis is that we need an overall goal and
“This (scenario technique) allows you to . . . set
the ship on a long-term course.”
Identifying new business
Foresight exercises challenge
current business models and
“(To engage) in value creation networks has
been one of the major outcomes of the scenario
Impact of Strategist Role
provide insights into alternatives.
“The BlackBerry is an example (of a latent
need) that no company has expressed the need
for. But it is certainly a new trend to enhance an
The process of creating future
insights is often used to trigger
discussion and consolidate opinions
throughout the company.
“(The goal) is primarily to form opinions. That
means we throw something to the people and
leave them alone with it.”
“(The goal is) to consolidate an internal market
view (with our market forecasts).”
Corporate foresight creates pictures
of the future to create a common
understanding of future directions.
“With future topics, there is no certainty. And
that is why you gain safety if you stay
unspecific, if you describe (the future) in a
picture and not in a precise mathematical
The first cluster is the impact of supporting the strategic review of R & D portfolios. In the
foresight activity, emerging innovation opportunities are identified and compared with current R & D
priorities and budgets. If realignment is needed, the foresight activity provides the needed arguments
for taking the decision of re-allocating R & D investments. For example, the scouting activity of
Volkswagen also revealed that the current car models in the U.S. market were mostly outside the so
called “sweet spots,” with the highest demand. This foresight insight was the basis on which to
introduce three new car models in the United States. In a similar project in China, Volkswagen
decided to create four new car models to suit the demands of Chinese car customers.
Another function of the strategist role is providing strategic guidance. Siemens produced
visualizations of future product-usage scenarios—so-called “pictures of the future”—that are used to
direct and align the innovation effort throughout the company. The visualizations are the result of
projects in which a joint team of corporate technology and a business unit explore future
developments from the market and technology perspective and derive new business ideas and key
technologies. The visualization, the project, the final report, and follow-on projects promote common
goals and contribute to the synchronization of innovation initiatives.
In addition, corporate foresight can also help identify and assess disruptive new business
models and alternative business logic. One example is Deutsche Bank Research, which used scenario
analysis to explore possible changes in value creation in the German economy in the next 15 years.
One scenario that was judged to have the highest probability showed a market in which 15% of all
value is created through networks or consortia of firms. Collaborative value creation—in which two
or more firms work together to create a new market—has just a 3% share of the German economy. In
consequence, the company formulated a strategic ambition to engage more in collaborations with
other companies and build value-creation networks. In addition to proactive identification and
development of new business models, corporate foresight was also reported to contribute by
scanning for new (and rival) business models and changes in business logic that could threaten the
current business activity.
Other companies explained that running foresight projects produces a benefit through the
process itself. By engaging several internal stakeholders, an internal discussion is triggered that helps
to consolidate opinions. These opinions include assessing the probability of trends, judging the size
of a business opportunity, and making market forecasts. One company regularly runs a foresight
activity that involves its foreign subsidiaries and local marketing staff to make predictions about
emerging market segments. This activity is judged as very successful for facilitating a cross-regional
discussion and for consolidating the different views on the market.
A further impact is the vision creation, which differs from providing strategic guidance,
because it is left unspecific. Several companies reported aiming for a certain fuzziness in order to
emphasize the uncertainty and ensure that the visions would inspire its employees to create the future
by working in the direction of the vision, rather than discouraging them with clear long-term goals.
4.3 The opponent role
The opponent role has an impact throughout the innovation process (see Figure 1). The
opponent role was derived by clustering three activities (see Table 6).
Table 6: Impact of the opponent role
Impact of Opponent Role
The foresight activity makes it
possible to challenge current
innovation activities to adjust to
“(One outcome is) to wake people up and show
them things outside their worldview.”
“If a (scientific) study proves that mobile
telephony triggers cancer, then our business
model is gone forever.”
“If we do not have this scenario approach, then
we also will not challenge our premises.”
Scanning for disruptions that
could endanger current and
Corporate foresight provides
information about wild cards, i.e.,
potential disruptive change.
“There might be glowing wallpaper, or people
do not have money anymore to consume
energy. Such things could be disruptive.”
“Environmental factors such as pollution or the
drying up of all the oil wells; in such cases, we
would no longer need to consider cars.
Transportation, yes, but not petrol or diesel
Challenging the state-of-the-
art of current R & D projects
Foresight projects show how
current R & D projects need to be
refocused to adapt to changes in the
“As a consequence of the foresight activity, we
changed the engine strategy and moved toward
smaller, four-cylinder engines, even though
everyone was saying we were crazy.”
The primary aim of the role is to challenge the ideas and basic assumptions of innovators.
Such assumptions can be in the field of customer needs, technological developments, or regulatory
issues. They are typically built on worldviews that are undisputed within the company, but which are
the subject of more controversy outside the corporate environment. By making these assumptions
explicit, monitoring them, and reporting expected changes, corporate foresight facilitates re-
adjustments of innovation activities and triggers the cancellation of projects.
In addition, corporate foresight plays the opponent role when it identifies technologies,
products, or changes in the consumer needs domain that have disruptive potential. Many observers
reported that these changes yielded disruptive potential particularly if they came from a domain
outside the current scope of the current business activity. They are often alternatives or substitution
products that build on technologies that are outside the areas currently employed by the company;
thus, corporate foresight is used to scan spots that would otherwise be left unobserved.
The third major impact of the opponent role is to ensure the state-of-the-art of R & D projects.
One company judged this to be the major aim and impact of corporate foresight. This company
employs a unit of six full-time employees who scan the environment, discuss and process the
collected information, and use the generated insights to challenge R & D project teams. The team’s
major impact is its regular participation in new project presentations, project milestone meetings, and
review workshops. In these workshops, they challenge the current activities with what they have
observed in the environment or what is already available in lead markets and thus increase the
probability that the R & D projects will produce state-of-the-art innovations.
5.1 Implications for practice
Several examples—such as the failure of Kodak to respond effectively to the discontinuous
change toward digital photography—highlight the need to establish effective mechanisms that allow
for a timely response to disruptive change. Our assessment showed that corporate foresight can and
should contribute through three roles to the ability to exploit the windows of opportunity that arise
from disruptive change.
Most companies that used corporate foresight in a strategist role have a management unit
dedicated to strategic innovation and strategic technology. These units are the primary internal
customer for a corporate foresight unit that plays the role of the strategist. A clear recommendation
from the case studies is to involve members of these units directly in foresight activities.
The opponent role has been shown to be an effective mechanism with which to challenge
innovation teams and thus enhance the quality of innovation development results. Through the case
studies, we have unearthed examples in which this role has been played through face-to-face
workshops with new product-development teams. In these workshops, corporate foresight challenges
the teams with insights on rival firms’ innovation activities as well as insights into change in
customer needs and on emerging technologies. The foresight manager and internal customers have
rated this practice successful. It can, therefore, be recommended that this role be established in a
Concerning the initiator role, it is not possible to conclusively judge whether (1) a formal link
to the innovation process or (2) the dissemination of foresight insights in a broadcast fashion is more
effective in triggering innovation. Even though the formal link to the innovation process ensures that
the innovation opportunity will be evaluated, it does not guarantee that the decision makers within
the innovation funnel’s gates will be convinced that the opportunity is attractive. In companies that
rely exclusively on broadcasted foresight information, it is not certain that it reaches R & D or
product managers, but it reaches more internal stakeholders, thus improving the chances that the
organization will be more receptive and responsive toward the innovation opportunity.
The tentative conclusion is that companies should pursue a multi-modal dissemination strategy,
meaning that they should establish process links while broadcasting the foresight insights through
mailing lists, the Intranet, blogs, wikis and internal document-management systems. In another
article we have also shown how companies build scouting networks that integrate internal and
external networks of foresighters and R & D managers. This practice of linking people to pass on
foresight insights to the ones that can start new innovation initiatives has also proven to be an
effective method to enhance the innovation capacity of a firm .
5.2 Implications for research
Earlier studies on corporate foresight have built exclusively on evidence from foresight units.
In consequence, they were subject to an informant bias, by which the reported impacts could be
overstated. Using respondents that inform on corporate foresight from three perspectives (that of the
corporate foresight activity team, that of the corporate foresight activity manager, and in particular
that of the internal stakeholder) increases the validity of the results in comparison to earlier studies
and extends the knowledge about the impact of corporate foresight.
The cross-case analysis made it possible to discover eleven impacts of corporate foresight on
the innovation capacity of a firm. These impacts have been described and validated by several
informants, and the quotes made for a rich understanding of the potential value contribution of
corporate foresight. We have thus contributed to the research on corporate foresight by extending the
knowledge of value creation and providing testable items.
By clustering the individual impacts, we revealed that corporate foresight efforts can be
classified into three roles. We also showed through examples and quotes that these roles are effective
in creating value in terms of the enhancement of innovation capacity. By linking the roles to the
innovation process, they can be used as constructs for future studies testing the theory.
By introducing and applying the resource-based view and dynamic-capabilities theory to the
field of corporate foresight, we have contributed to building a theoretical base in the field. This is
particularly important, as past research was primarily descriptive and explorative. To permit research
on corporate foresight to move toward theory building and testing, more common theoretical
frameworks are needed. The application of both the resource-based view and dynamic-capabilities
theory has proven their suitability for the field. We have contributed to moving the field of corporate
foresight toward using common and acknowledged theoretical foundations. This facilitates cross-
fertilization with other research fields, such as innovation and strategic management.
We have contributed to research on organizational ambidexterity by confirming the importance
of dedicated management systems to allow firms to move into new business fields and produce
radical innovation. We also have identified examples in which corporate foresight performing the
strategist role has permitted the firm to explore and plan the development of new business fields. In
addition, we have shown how corporate foresight performing the initiator role increases the ability of
a firm to produce incremental innovation. This leads to the conclusion that the interplay of corporate
foresight and innovation management activities can contribute to organizational ambidexterity.
We hope that this article will prompt more research investigating the ways in which corporate
foresight can be integrated into innovation management, the goal being to build organizations that
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i René Rohrbeck is the head of innovation management at the European Center for Information
and Communication Technology (EICT) and an associate researcher at the Berlin University of
Technology. His research interests are organizational future orientation, open innovation, and
technology management. His works have been published in several books and in peer-reviewed
journals, among them R & D Management, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, and
Global Business and Organizational Excellence.
ii Hans Georg Gemünden is a full tenured Professor for Technology and Innovation
Management at the Berlin University of Technology. His current research focuses on success
factors of radical innovations, project management, entrepreneurship, promoters and champions,
teams, inter-organisational cooperation and innovation networks and innovations in health care. His
work has been published in Organization Science, Research Policy, Journal of Product Innovation
Management, Creativity and Innovation Management, International Journal of Research in
Marketing, Journal of Business Research, Management International Review, IEEE Transactions
on Engineering Management, R&D Management and others.