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This paper focuses on exploring the potential and empirically observable value creation of strategic foresight activities in firms. We first review the literature on strategic foresight, innovation management and strategic management in order to identify the potential value contributions. We use survey data from 77 large multinational firms to assess how much value is generated from formalized strategic foresight practices in these firms. We show that it is possible to capture value through an enhanced capacity to perceive change, an enhanced capacity to interpret and respond to change, influencing other actors, and through an enhanced capacity for organizational learning.
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Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2194787
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The Value Contribution of Strategic Foresight:
Insights From an Empirical Study of Large European Companies
RENÉ ROHRBECK
Aarhus University, School of Business and Social Sciences, Department of Business
Administration
Bartholins Allé 10, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
Email: rrohr@asb.dk, Tel.: +45 871 64929
JAN OLIVER SCHWARZ
Berlin University of the Arts, Germany
Adelheidstr. 34, 80796 München, Germany
Email: mail@joschwarz.com, Tel.: +49 89 97895072
The Value Contribution of Strategic Foresight: Insights From an Empirical Study on Large European Companies
Rohrbeck, R. and J. O. Schwarz
Technological Forecasting and Social Change, forthcoming
This is a preprint. The final article can be found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2013.01.004
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2194787
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Abstract
This paper focuses on exploring the potential and empirically observable value
creation of strategic foresight activities in firms. We first review the literature on
strategic foresight, innovation management and strategic management in order to
identify the potential value contributions. We use survey data from 77 large
multinational firms to assess how much value is generated from formalized strategic
foresight practices in these firms. We show that it is possible to capture value through
(1) an enhanced capacity to perceive change, (2) an enhanced capacity to interpret and
respond to change, (3) influencing other actors, (4) and through an enhanced capacity
for organizational learning.
Key Words: strategic foresight, value creation, weak signals, organizational future
orientation
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1 Introduction
Although interest in strategic foresight appears to be increasing [1-3], firms’
implementation of strategic foresight systems remains limited [4-6]. This could be due to
doubts about getting a return on investment, or, more precisely, uncertainty about the value
creation of strategic foresight activities.
Since the late 1980s, the term “foresight” has been used to describe activities which
inform decision-makers by improving the inputs about the long-term future of an organization
[7]. Makridakis [8: XIII] says that: “The role of foresight is to provide business executives
and government policy makers with ways of seeing the future with different eyes and fully
understanding the possible implications of alternative technological/societal paths”. Or, as
Tsoukas and Shepherd [9] put it: Foresight is the ability to see developments before they
become trends, to recognize patterns before they emerge, and to grasp the features of social
currents that are likely to have an impact; it is not the ability to make predictions. Since
people are unlikely to stop making predictions, one aim of foresight must be to reduce the
momentum of predicting the future [10].
In the French tradition of la prospective, the foresight is linked to critical thinking in
decision-making and action. In the American tradition, foresight is used to describe an image
of the given future and is thus much narrower than prospective. In our paper, we follow the
suggestion from Coates, Durnace and Godet to use the term strategic foresight as a synonym
for “la prospective”[11].
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Academic studies have generated knowledge on the need for strategic foresight [5],
corporate foresight systems [12, 13] and their processes [14-18] and design characteristics
[19, 20], and how they are being adapted to different contingency factors [21].
The aim of this paper is to contribute to the discussion on the value contribution of
strategic foresight [e.g. 22, 23]. This discussion is still rather vague. For example, Slaughter
[15] talked about “creating and maintaining a high-quality, coherent and functional forward
view and use the insights arising in organizational useful ways”. Tsoukas and Shepherd [9]
emphasize perceiving and interpreting changes as the desired result of strategic foresight.
Roney [24] suggested that strategic foresight should support strategic planning. Rohrbeck and
Gemünden also [25] identify important value contributions to the innovation capacity of a
firm. Thus, strategic foresight is likely to add value to a corporate organization in multiple
ways.
Our aim is to enhance the understanding of how this value creation can occur, both
potentially and actually. We identify potential value contribution through an analysis of the
strategic foresight, strategic management and innovation management literature, and
determine actual value contribution from our survey of 77 large multinational companies.
Comparing the two enables us to ascertain what firms should expect from strategic foresight
activities on the one hand, and to suggest how they can increase the likelihood of achieving
value contributions on the other hand.
2 Literature review: the potential value contribution of strategic foresight
Our literature analysis is guided by Daft and Weick’s [26] “Organizations as
Interpretation Systems” model (see Figure 1). According to these authors, organizations
perceive their environment (step 1: “scanning – data collection”), translate what they find into
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organizational implications (step 2: “interpretation – data giving meaning”), and develop
responses based on their insights into their environment (step 3: “learning – action taken”).
Figure 1: Daft and Weick's "Model of Organizations as Interpretation Systems"
In regard to the literature review on strategic foresight, the terms foresight and strategic
foresight need to be briefly discussed. The term foresight has been used since the late 1980s to
describe an inherent human activity [27]. The terms strategic, organizational or corporate
foresight, (it has been argued that these terms can be used somewhat synonymous [28]), have
been used to describe futures research activities in corporations [27] or organizations. Martin
[29] and others [30] emphasizes that foresight deals with the long-term future and Vecchiato
et al. [22] use strategic foresight deliberately to emphasize the tight relationship between
foresight and strategy formulation. While we already underlined our rationale for using the
term strategic foresight to assimilate with the French tradition of la prospective [11], our aim
in the literature review was to broaden our perspective by including literature on strategic
foresight and literature on the organizational functions that we expect to use strategic
foresight insights, i.e. innovation and strategic management.
Furthermore, the aim of the following literature analysis is to determine which value
contributions can be identified along the three steps of the “Organizations as Interpretation
Systems” model. We expect that the strategic foresight literature will show us value creation
in terms of perception and interpretation, while the strategic and innovation management
Scanning
(Data gathering)
Interpretation
(Date given meaning)
2 1
Learning
(Action taken)
3
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literature will help us identify how strategic foresight can trigger organizational responses
(action).
2.1 The strategic foresight perspective
Although studies on general ignorance about radical change date from long before Igor
Ansoff [31], he [32, 33] was the first to observe how the inherent ignorance of firms about
changes in the environment often resulted in missed opportunities and a failure to respond to
threats. Such changes he claimed can be identified and anticipated by scanning so-called
weak signals. A company that spots and correctly interprets the disruptive potential for its
business will be in a good position to respond to this change, and retain, and even advance, its
competitiveness.
The first task of strategic foresight is thus to develop mechanisms to help companies to
detect these weak signals, interpret them, and trigger a response. According to Day and
Schoemaker [34: 1-2]: “The key is to quickly spot those signals that are relevant and explore
them further, filter out the noise, and pursue opportunities ahead of the competition or
recognize the early signs of trouble before they escalate into major problems.”
Firms need to make a dedicated effort to scan for change on the periphery, because they
suffer from an inherent blindness caused by an intense internal focus [35] and from the
reinforcement of sensors that made the organization successful in the past [36]. One
recommendation for ensuring a broad scanning scope is to use interdisciplinary teams that are
highly networked [13, 37]. Therefore our first potential value proposition is:
(P1) Gaining insights into changes in the environment
Change is particularly relevant if it is discontinuous, which is to say that it breaks away
from the current path of development [38]. Such change can represent both an opportunity
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and a threat. When planning for the future, such discontinuities can be planned as “wild
cards”, i.e. a singular, sudden, surprising and shattering future change [39].
Discontinuous change can come from different areas, including the political, economic,
social, and technological environment of an organization [40], also known as PEST changes.
Studies have shown that firms often scan extensively in one area, while paying insufficient
attention to the others [41, 42]. In order to rectify this, top management should seek advice on
how best to scan [43] and also encourage scanning of other areas [44]. In addition, using
multi-disciplinary teams should reduce the risk of overlooking or misinterpreting change [e.g.
37, 45]. Given that the aim of strategic foresight should be to scan for the unknown in the
environment, we propose the following potential value contribution:
(P2) Contributing to a reduction of uncertainty (e.g. through
identification of disruptions)
2.2 The strategic management perspective
It has previously been argued that the study of strategic foresight could benefit from
drawing on the much larger pool of knowledge from other management research streams [46].
We believe that, for the purpose of identifying the value contribution of strategic foresight,
the strategic management and innovation management literature is particularly insightful.
The resource-based view of strategic management contributes to understanding how
firms achieve and maintain a competitive advantage [47-49] by seeing the firm as a bundle of
resources (human, processes, practices, etc.) that are unique to the firm, and which, compared
with the bundles of other firms, might translate into a competitive advantage [47, 50].
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More recently, it has been proposed that, in dynamic markets, firms should be able to
renew their portfolio of strategic resources [51]. This ability is called a firm’s dynamic
capabilities. Some authors think that dynamic capabilities can be built on existing processes
such as alliancing, product development, and strategic decision-making [52], while others
argue that dynamic capabilities need resource cognition, i.e. how managers conceptualize
resources and how well they know the critical resources of their own firm [53]. The overall
process has been described in four phases: (1) search and selection of new resources, (2)
decision-making as to their adoption, (3) configuration and deployment, and (4)
implementation, i.e. when the new resources are put to use to achieve a competitive
advantage. Figure 2 is based on the dynamic-capability process described by Helfat et al.
[54:7-17].
Figure 2: Process model of dynamic capabilities, adapted from Helfat et al., 2007
Using this model as a frame of reference, we expect strategic foresight to potentially
support all four process steps, leading to an overall increase in the firm’s evolutionary fitness.
The first phase corresponds to the perception of change (P1) and the reduction of uncertainty
(P2) mentioned above.
Managerial and organizational processes
Configuration &
deployment
Decision
making
Search &
selection Implementation
Performance yardstick
Val ue
creation
Technical Fitness
Measures the performance of a dynamic capability as “quality per unit
cost” (e.g. how many relevant trends are being identified and assessed and at
what cost)
The technical fitness is one of the three factors influencing the evolutionary
fitness
Evolutionary fitness
!Survival
!Growth
!Value creation
!Competitive and
sustained
advantage
!profit
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Once a firm perceives an environmental change, it has to assess its impact on the
organization [22] and formulate a response strategy. Additional information gathering
activities are also likely to be involved as a basis for decision-making [55]. This interpretation
and strategy formation process can be regarded as a constructive process (as in the French
“prospective” tradition), where multiple actors jointly interpret the perceived signals and
create meaning [56].
One method used to interpret change and model interdependencies between multiple
factors is the scenario technique [57-60]. Scenarios describe different ways in which the
environment could evolve and how the firm can respond to the change. If seen as challenging
and visionary strategic alternatives [61], scenarios can contribute to management’s ability to
take future-oriented decisions and initiate the configuration and deployment of the firm’s
strategic resources [53], thus supporting the second and third phases of the dynamic-
capabilities process.
Scenarios also serve as shared mental images that build emotional capacity (through
personal interaction in the scenario process). Creating emotional capacity is regarded as being
vital for driving the internal change process, particularly in the case of radical change [62].
Thus, emotional capacity serves as a driving force for the implementation of strategy
concerning the fourth phase of the dynamic-capabilities process.
In this respect, the potential value creation of strategic foresight would be to integrate key
stakeholders in the process of strategy formation. Middle management in particular is a
stakeholder group often opposed to radical change processes [63, 64]. But other stakeholders,
such as employees in the functional and business units, and even external stakeholders, can
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and should also be integrated in the strategic foresight, and into the strategy formation,
process [65, 66].
Van der Heijden [59] has emphasized that scenarios should be understood as a tool for
fostering and initiating strategic conversations in organizations: “It is my experience that
scenarios are the best available language for the strategic conversation, as it allows both
differentiation in views, but also brings people together towards a shared understanding of the
situation, making decision-making possible when the time has arrived to take action”. The
value contribution of strategic foresight, in the sense of a strategic conversation, is that it
encourages not only the sharing, but also challenges the firm’s mental models, and in this way
the firm can eliminate blind spots in its sense-making of the environment and of the future.
Strategic foresight as a vehicle for strategic conversation involves both value contribution
and the notion of learning. A strategic foresight process not only contributes to the learning
organisation [67], but is a learning process itself [68]. We therefore expect strategic foresight
to be able to contribute value through:
(SM1) Fostering conversation about overall strategy.
It is not enough for a firm to perceive change and develop a strategy to deal with it; the
firm also has to be able to adapt to change. In management science there are two opinions
about firms’ ability to adapt to change. The evolutionists argue that firms have insufficient
sensors to perceive change [36], they have established internal organizations that are too
complex [69], and consequently they are too inert to respond effectively and timely enough to
survive radical change [70]. The adaptionists disagree with this, pointing out that many firms
(however small) have already survived discontinuous change, proving that adaptation is
possible [71, 72].
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We follow the adaptionists’ assumption in expecting that aggressive entrepreneurial
management can turn even threatening discontinuous change into an opportunity [73]. Of
course, this is not to ignore the fact that large firms find it especially difficult to respond to
discontinuous change [74]. However, we assume that this failure is not proof of a general
inability to adapt, but rather an indication that specific methods, tools and processes are
needed.
Similarly, it has been noted that strategic planning lacks sensitivity to changes in the
firm’s environment. This suggests that elements of strategic issue management should be
included into their strategic planning systems [75]. It has also been noted that strategic
foresight should challenge mental models and support management in working with
hypotheses, rather than rushing to create consensus on the basis of shared (and potentially
false) mental models [76].
In this study, we define the potential value of strategic foresight more broadly than
merely a contribution to responding to environmental change. We also include cases where a
firm is faced with an uncertain environment, e.g. entering a new geographical market, where
it has not previously done business and thus lacks knowledge and experience. Such a situation
is similar to a discontinuous change insofar as the firm is faced with uncertainty regarding
many of the factors affecting its future business operations [13]. We therefore propose that the
potential value contribution of strategic foresight consists in:
(SM2) Supporting the adjustment of the company when faced with
uncertainty.
Moving from perceiving to responding to external change means that firms need to
develop plans and orchestrate actions. The complexity of implementing responses has already
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been hinted above, when we discussed the idea that the inertia of a large firm is a
consequence of the complexity of its organization, interdependence of actions, and the need to
align actions with incentives, motivation, controls and coordination [77]. One result of the
failure to manage this complexity might be that middle managers keep following the
guidelines of old incentive systems and thus prevent strategic change, as was the case during
the transition of Eastman Kodak from chemical to digital photography [64].
There are a number of methods within the strategic foresight repertoire that can support
the discovery of interdependencies between actions, model them, and create systems that
reflect future states or plan a transition path. As discussed earlier in this article, future states
can be modelled and reflected by scenarios, which in turn reflect the systemic nature of the
real world, where influencing factors can be integrated by a system of interdependencies,
rather than by the linear dependencies used in causal chains [78].
Roadmapping has become the method of choice for planning the transition towards a
future state. From its original application as a tool to coordinate research and development
and marketing units [79], roadmapping has been adapted [80] also to include coordination of
corporate and technology strategy [81, 82], entering new business fields [83], and planning
strategic renewal of business fields [84].
These two tools serve only as an example that strategic foresight methods and practices
can contribute to the planning task and coordination of different units and their actions. We
thus conclude that another potential value contribution of strategic foresight could be:
(SM3) Improving the coordination of business objectives.
Another potential value contribution of strategic foresight concerns broadening the scope
of perceived alternatives and taking different perspectives in order to make better strategic
choices. In this respect, it has been shown that decision-making is often characterized by
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bounded rationality [85], and that special efforts are needed to prevent negative effects such
as ‘groupthink’, i.e. the tendency to seek concurrence rather than exploring all possible
solutions [86].
There are many factors, particularly in the strategy formation process, that can isolate
decision makers from a broader set of information, and thus from selecting the optimal
solution from a wide range of alternatives. Among other things, strategy formation is
influenced by dominant mental models, heuristics, representations, and personal values [87,
88].
However, there is some evidence to suggest that, for example, scenario analysis can
widen the scope of influencing factors perceived by top management and thus enhance
strategic decision-making [78]. According to some, scenario analysis also has a certain
capacity to increase organizational learning [89]. Furthermore, scenarios can serve as a useful
tool to combine the external perspective (external scenarios) with the internal perspective of
resource and strategic options (internal scenarios) [90], and thus support the search for an
optimal solution in uncertain environments. We therefore expect that strategic foresight
exercises can contribute value by:
(SM4) Creating the ability to adopt alternative perspectives.
2.3 The innovation management perspective
It has been argued that a strategic foresight process can be characterised as incorporating
creativity and innovation [91] and that there is a connection between innovation and strategic
foresight [e.g. 25, 27, 91, 92]. Therefore the search for weak signals can also be regarded as
the search for new innovations [28].
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Innovation management deals with supporting a firm to exploit inventions either
externally through novel products and services or internally through enhanced processes or
organizational forms) [93, 94]. Innovation management often involves integrating knowledge
about market demand with knowledge about emerging technologies and technical feasibility.
There needs to be a balance between the market and the technology perspectives [95], and the
creation process of innovation will often involve multiple iterations between the market
(customers) and the lab (prototypes based on novel technologies) [96].
The downside of such iterations is the time required and the cost (for creating prototypes,
market testing, etc.). In consequence, firms seek to reduce the need for iterations by planning
activities in the pre-development stage of new product development [97, 98]. Case studies
have shown that strategic foresight can support new product development in three ways: (1)
exploring new innovation fields, (2) identifying promising innovations, and (3) challenging
research and development teams throughout the new product development process [25]. This
leads to the following proposition about the potential value contribution of strategic foresight:
(IM1) Strategic foresight reduces the level of uncertainty in R&D
projects.
While scanning for emerging technologies is an established practice in many firms [2],
scanning for future customer needs is less common. Increasingly, however, firms seek to
explore new innovation fields by focusing on the discovery of non-articulated needs [13].
Since searching for non-articulated needs can be seen as exploring either emerging or future
needs, we regard this as a task of strategic foresight. Thus, we expect that strategic foresight
could also contribute by:
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(IM2) Enhancing the understanding of customer needs.
In addition, firms report that they use strategic foresight to identify new customer groups,
either for current or future products and services [13, 25]. We therefore propose the
hypothesis that strategic foresight will contribute to:
(IM3) Identifying potential customers.
It has also been reported that strategic foresight methods are being employed to explore
potential new markets [99], or gain a better understanding of how current markets work [100,
101]. This can be particularly crucial in situations where market and industries converge
[102], where tools such as scouting networks [103], proactive scanning of technology and
market opportunities [13], and scenario analysis [78, 104] have been reported to contribute
value by:
(IM4) Enhancing the understanding of the market.
With regard to the opponent role of strategic foresight [25], i.e. challenging state-of-the-
art innovation projects, we also speculate that this can be played at the portfolio level. Here, it
would be particularly important to monitor exposure to disruptive changes and how well the
current innovation project portfolio is aligned with possible futures [105]. For example,
strategic foresight could check how new legislation or a change in the dominant technology of
a particular industry is likely to affect the market success of current innovation projects (both
positively and negatively). We therefore expect strategic foresight to contribute by:
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(IM5) Identifying opportunities and threats regarding the firm’s product and technology
portfolio.
2.4 General value contributions
On a more generic level, it can be argued that the role of a strategic foresight process in
an organization cannot predict the future, but can prepare for it [9]. This is also reflected in
the notion that it is the actual process of developing foresight, which might have an impact in
an organization [106]. Chia [107] also argues that foresight is achieved in an organization
through re-educating the attention of management. Foresight activities should be a structured
communication process focusing on mental models, blind spots, and knowledge gaps [108].
These processes should, in turn, trigger discussions about the future and about current events
that might have an impact on the future. This process enables an organization to make sense
of its environment and look for weak signals of change, or rather, trends. In cognitive terms, a
foresight process should enhance an organization’s memory of the future [71]. Ingvar’s [109]
concept of a “memory of the future” has recently been underlined by Schacter and Gilbert
[110, 111], who conclude that the human brain is able to store various different pictures of the
future. The more memories of the future that are stored, the more receptive can an individual
be to signals from the outside world.
Reading [112] observes that humans can only imagine the future in ways that relate to
their own experience and understanding of the past. This implies that humans are unable to
conceive ideas that do not fit their preconceived models of the world. Van der Heijden [60:
177] emphasizes the importance of a memory of the future as regards the scenario process:
“In essence, the scenario process enables managers to visit and experience the future ahead of
time, thereby creating what is called “memories” of the future. These visits to anticipated
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futures are then remembered, creating a matrix in the mind of managers and serving as
subconscious guides to make sense of incoming environmental signals and to act on them”.
By adding to the memory of the future of an organization, strategic foresight can contribute to
the notion of the learning organization. We thus expect strategic foresight to:
(O1) Facilitate organizational learning.
Following the argument that foresight can create memories of the future, or mental
images, we can expect strategic foresight to support the process of convincing other
organizations or stakeholders to act to create this future. Strategic foresight could be expected
to play an enabling role [20] in systemic innovations in particular, where multiple actors need
to work together to create a market or an industry [113]. We therefore expect strategic
foresight to contribute value by:
(O2) Influencing others to act.
2.5 Summary: The potential value contribution of strategic foresight
By analysing not only the literature on strategic foresight, but also on strategic
management and innovation management, we have broadened the potential contribution of
the former. Table 1 summarizes the potential value contributions of strategic foresight, which
will serve as our hypotheses for the empirical investigation.
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Table 1: Potential value contributions of strategic foresight activities
Group
3 Potential value contribution of strategic foresight
Perception
Gaining insights into changes in the environment
Contributing to a reduction of uncertainty (e.g. through identification
of disruptions)
Interpretation and usage
(for strategic
management)
Fostering conversations about the overall strategy of the company
Supporting the adjustment of the company in situations of uncertainty
Improving the coordination of business objectives
Creating the ability to adopt alternative perspectives
Interpretation and usage
(for innovation
management)
Reducing the level of uncertainty in R&D projects
Enhancing the understanding of customer needs
Identifying potential customers
Enhancing the understanding of the market
Identification of opportunities and threats regarding our product and
technology portfolio
Overall
Facilitate organizational learning
Shaping the future (e.g. through influencing other parties, such as
politics and other companies)
The table reflects a very broad perspective on strategic foresight, one that includes not
only the perception and interpretation of change, but also the methods, processes, and
organizational routines that permit an organization to respond to change.
4 Methodology
4.1 Research strategy
After having identified the potential value contributions of strategic foresight activities,
we wanted to shed light on the actual value contributions that firms generate through their
activities. In order to pre-test whether and where such value contributions can be detected, we
conducted 12 interviews, six in large multinational companies (MNCs) and six in small and
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medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This quickly showed us that it would be difficult to
identify suitable respondents. Most MNCs and all SMEs had no, or only very limited,
knowledge about value creation from strategic foresight activities.
There were two reasons for this: First, there were no formalized strategic foresight
activities in most of these companies, so they were unable to comment on their impact.
Second, even if formalized strategic foresight activities did take place, many firms had not
systematically tried to assess the resulting value creation. We therefore faced a challenge to
find suitable firms that were able to report on the phenomenon we were interested in. As none
of the SMEs from our pre-study were able to comment on the value creation from their
strategic foresight activities, we decided to target exclusively large companies as respondents.
4.2 Data collection and sample
We developed a sequential filtering process to help us find suitable firms. We started by
searching the Internet for firms that were large enough (annual revenue of more than 100
million) and that had documented experience of strategic foresight, i.e. in formal reports
(annual report, company newsletter, etc.) or information provided by a representative of the
firm (at conference presentations, interviews, or via a social network, etc.). This process gave
us a sample of 467 firms, which were contacted by phone and invited to participate in the
survey. Of the invited firms, 135 returned a questionnaire, corresponding to a response rate of
29%. Of these 135 questionnaires, 58 had to be excluded, either because the firm did not have
sufficient experience of strategic foresight or because the questionnaire was incomplete. The
remaining 77 firms came from a variety of different industry sectors, as shown in Figure 3.
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Figure 3: Sample breakdown by industry in %
Most of the firms in our sample are very large, 91% having annual revenues of more than
1 billion. We believe that this is partly a result of our filtering, where we excluded firms
without formalized strategic foresight activities. Large firms are more likely to have sufficient
resources at their disposal to include such activities, and also be more likely to want a return
on their investment in strategic foresight. A breakdown of the firms by revenue is shown in
Figure 4.
Figure 4: Sample breakdown by annual revenue in Euros
31%
17%
16%
12%
12%
12% Engineering
Automotive
Consumer Goods
Chemicals
Energy
IT
77 all
33 above 10 billion
37 1 to 10 billion
7 100 million to 1 billion
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After collecting the questionnaires, we also conducted 10 validation interviews to check
whether our questions had been properly understood. These interviews showed that, overall,
the respondents understood the intent of the questions. In some cases, these interviews also
revealed interesting insights into sub-factors that influenced the score. These cases will be
commented on in the results section.
4.3 Top, medium and low performers
Our empirical research focuses on the value that strategic foresight activities generate,
without controlling for the level of activities. This is because, based on our pre-study, we
came from the pessimistic starting point that many firms reported very little value creation,
and we were therefore more interested in detecting any hopeful signs of where and how much
value is created. Our pre-study also gave us the impression that good performers were using
strategic foresight activities in a more directed way, i.e. with more intent to create value. This
phenomenon was for us an interesting finding, which could eventually give encouragement
for further research with the aim to establish a correlation between performance and foresight
activities. This in mind we wanted to explore if that phenomenon could also be identified in
our data. We want to clarify that we cannot establish any relationship between the value
contribution of strategic foresight and firm performance and we did not aim for that.
However, by splitting our sample into top-, medium- and low-performing firms we aim at
differentiating between these three groups and identifying significant differences their
obtained value contributions.
Finding a good proxy for performance is always difficult, and in our case we also had to
find a measure with a reasonable level of robustness for our multi-industry sample. According
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to Kaplan and Norton [114], sales growth is a good indicator of performance, since it
indicates the level of a company’s success; it captures expansion of product as well as service
offerings, the reaching of new customers and markets, and changes in the product and
services mix towards higher-value-added offerings. Sales growth is also one of the indicators
not adversely affected by distortions, e.g. through financial instruments employed to optimize
operating profit.
We therefore chose to use sales growth, collecting the necessary data from annual reports
and, in some cases, directly from the firm concerned. We used the Compound Annual Growth
Rate (CAGR) between the years 2005 and 2007 to calculate sales growth, classifying the
sample into top and low performers by selecting the 12 firms (approximately 15%) with the
highest and lowest CAGR. The remaining 53 firms were categorized as middle performers.
5 Results
5.1 Perception
For many firms, gaining insights into changes in the organizational environment (P1) is the
basis of any strategic foresight system. It is therefore not surprising that only a very small
minority of the medium performers (4%) report that they do not get this particular value from
their strategic foresight system (see Figure 5). The data also show that roughly the same
percentages (about 35%) of firms fully agree that they get relevant insights. The surprisingly
low overall figure can also be seen as an indication that our respondents think that strategic
foresight could do a better job in achieving this goal.
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Figure 5: Value creation in terms of enhanced perception
The second question is designed to capture the effect of having insights into changes in
organizational environment (P2). Unlike the first question, it measures not the number of
insights, but reflects on the number of potential changes that the strategic foresight was not
able to capture. Interestingly, the percentage of top performers who are fully satisfied in this
respect is much higher (42%) than of the medium (21%) or low (25%) performers. However,
top performers also seem to be more critical about the performance of their strategic foresight
systems, since 17% disagree with the statement that uncertainty has been reduced.
Perception Figure 5
34%
36%
33%
42%
21%
25%
66%
58%
67%
41%
69%
75%
17%
8%
Medium
Top
Medium
Top
yes no
Low
partly
Gaining insights into changes
in the environment
Contributing to a reduction of
uncertainty (e.g. through ide-
ntification of disruptions)
Low
P1
P2
don‘t
know
24
5.2 Interpretation and usage (for strategic management)
Our next set of questions was designed to capture the extent to which the firms can
transform the perceived changes, or weak signals of change, into implications for their
organization (interpretation) and produce adequate responses (usage).
In the category ‘fostering strategic discussions’ (SM1), the top performers again have the
largest share (42%) of successful systems (see Figure 6), with much lower figures for medium
and low performers (23% and 8% respectively). Thus, top performers in particular are
optimistic that strategic foresight contributes to strategic cognition, which would be an
important value creation.
As regards the question of whether strategic conversations also lead to an increased
ability to adjust and respond (SM2), the extent to which all firms fully agree to this is equally
small in all categories (approximately 20%).
The aim of the next question was to determine whether strategic foresight activities
improve internal coordination (SM3). Here, only 25% of top performers and none of the low
performers agreed to this. This could also be due to a low level of participation in such
activities. Many of the firms in our pre-study carried out strategic foresight activities without
any collaboration with other units, and after completion merely submitted a report. Such
companies are unlikely to add value in terms of coordination between goals and units.
25
Figure 6: Value creation for strategic management
As can be seen from the last question (SM4), all firms have equally limited success
(about 22% on average) in adopting alternative perspectives, although most are somewhat
satisfied (about 95% on average). In our follow-up interviews, this was attributed to the fact
that, while strategic foresight activities often resulted in alternative perspectives, decision
makers in a few cases only adopted them.
42%
23%
8%
25%
17%
17%
25%
17%
25%
20%
17%
50%
62%
84%
75%
68%
58%
67%
72%
66%
75%
70%
67%
8%
11%
8%
13%
17%
8%
9%
26%
8%
8%
8%
8%
8%
Medium
Top
Medium
Top
yes no
Low
partly
Fostering conversation about
overall strategy of the
company
Supporting adjustment of the
company in case of uncer-
tainty
Low
SM1
SM2
Medium
Top
Low
Improving the coordination of
business objectives
SM3
Medium
Top
Low
Creating the ability to adopt
alternative perspectives
SM4
don‘t
know
26
5.3 Interpretation and usage (for innovation management)
As discussed in our literature review, although the roots of strategic foresight can mostly
be traced back to the strategic management literature, in recent years the link to innovation
management has been highlighted more frequently. However, our survey data seem to suggest
that, for innovation management, the link to value, at least in terms of reducing the level of
uncertainty, is somewhat tenuous (IM1) (see Figure 7). The low and medium performers in
particular are almost unanimous in saying that there is either partly or no value creation at all.
Only among top performers is there a significant number of firms (34%) that say that there
has been a clear reduction of uncertainty in their R&D projects.
The results are more positive for the second question (IM2). About 34% of top
performers and 32% of medium performers report an enhanced customer understanding,
while only 17% of low performers agree to this. There is more limited agreement about the
value of identifying new potential customers (IM3), where only 17% of top performers and
20% of medium performers agree.
As regards the broader aim of enhancing an understanding of the market (IM4), 34% of
both top and medium performers fully agree to this, as opposed to only 17% of the low
performers.
The last question in the innovation management block was concerned with one of the
most strategic roles of innovation management (IM5), where we expected a more direct link
to strategic foresight. Here, the data also show a more positive picture, with 42% of top
performers and 23% and 25% of medium and low performers respectively saying that their
strategic foresight activities contribute to this value, thereby confirming the link.
27
Figure 7: Value creation for innovation management
Interpretation and usage for innovation management Figure 7
34%
8%
34%
32%
17%
17%
20%
8%
34%
34%
17%
42%
23%
25%
66%
66%
75%
66%
58%
50%
75%
65%
58%
66%
62%
75%
58%
62%
59%
24%
17%
8%
25%
8%
13%
26%
11%
8%
8%
8%
8%
8%
8%
Medium
Top
Medium
Top
yes no
Low
partly
Reducing the level of un-
certainty in R&D projects
Enhancing understanding
of customer needs
Low
IM1
IM2
Medium
Top
Low
Identification of potential
customers
IM3
Medium
Top
Low
Enhancing the understanding
of the market
IM4
don‘t
know
Medium
Top
Low
Identification of opportunities
and threats for our product
and technology portfolio
IM5
28
5.4 Overall value contributions
The final section of our empirical investigation examined value contributions in a very
broad sense (see Figure 8). The data on organizational learning (O1) show a mixed picture at
a low level. While 25% of top and low performers agreed that their activities support
organizational learning, the figure for medium performers is only 13%.
Figure 8: Overall value creation for the firm
The second question (O2) is designed to identify the extent to which strategic foresight
activities help shape the future. In our pre-survey interviews, several firms indicated that they
use scenarios to influence especially other companies or stakeholders, e.g. politicians.
However, confirming our insights from the interviews, although some companies seem to be
very successful in using strategic foresight for this purpose, they are a minority, being only
25% of top performers and 20% of medium performers.
25%
13%
25%
25%
20%
67%
68%
58%
67%
61%
92%
8%
15%
17%
8%
15%
8%
Medium
Top
Medium
Top
yes no
Low
partly
Facilitating organizational
learning
Shaping the future (e.g. through
influencing other players such
as politicians or other companies
Low
O1
O2
don‘t
know
29
5.5 Overall results
When calculating the average for the fully agreeing respondents across all items of one
dimension, it can be seen that top performers are more likely to get value from their strategic
foresight activities in all of them (see Figure 9; top performers are shown in light grey). The
difference between top performers and medium and low performers is particularly high in the
dimension ‘overall value contribution’, where 34% fully agree, compared with 17% for
medium performers and 13% for low performers.
Figure 9: Overall value contribution of top, medium, and low performers (Figure 9 shows the
‘fully agree’ values only
Perception
Interpretation
and usage for
strategic
management
Interpretation
and usage for
innovation
management
Overall value
contribution
Top
Medium
Low
50%
40%
30
The data also shows that, in all categories, the majority of firms do not get all the
potential value contribution. Even in the group of top performers, only about 38% (in the
perception category) report achieving full value creation. This low likelihood of getting value
in return for an investment in strategic foresight activities might well prevent the spread of
strategic foresight practices.
6 Discussion
The aim of our study was to determine the kind of value that firms get from formalized
strategic foresight activities. As described in the methodology section, this was not easy, since
the majority of firms in our pre-study had no formalized activities. We therefore had to
develop a respondent search strategy to identify firms which do have formalized activities,
and which have been carrying them out for at least three years. This meant, however, that we
could not focus on comparable firms from, for example, a single industry, of a certain size,
similar age, and with a similar business model, etc. As the use of strategic foresight
capabilities increasingly becomes more widespread, it might be easier in the future to collect
more homogeneous samples, which would then reduce the variance resulting from firm
characteristics.
Another downside of the limited implementation of strategic foresight is that it is not yet
possible to evaluate such activities so that they can be compared between firms and be linked
to the value contribution. Our focus is therefore solely on the value contribution of formalized
strategic foresight activities.
The classification of firms into top, medium, and low performers will always result in
unwanted biases, especially in a cross-industry sample, where there is a risk of sorting market
leaders from one industry into the medium or low-performer group merely because the other
31
industries have had higher growth. Therefore this classification, and the analysis based on this
comparison, should be approached with care. Notwithstanding, we believe that using sales
growth is the best choice to limit biases, and also that the insights from the analysis can at
least identify interesting phenomena that can be explored further in future studies.
Our analysis of the data focused in particular on interpreting the ‘fully agree’ figures,
which is a result of our observations in the pre-study. Even though we have selected the
internal customers of strategic foresight activities as our primary respondents, we still had to
deal with the bias of giving a too positive account of the impact of the activities. A typical
answer in the interview was: “Well, I believe I can confirm this value creation. I cannot recall
that I did much with the results of the foresight, but I know that some results were there”.
Such a respondent would then score a ‘partially agree’ on our scale. However, we were only
interested in identifying dependable value contributions, which could be measured in order to
justify investments in strategic foresight activities.
Overall, our study has suffered from the above-mentioned biases, thus limiting our ability
to draw generalized conclusions from the data. Nonetheless, we hope that we have been able
to add to the knowledge of what firms can expect when investing in strategic foresight
activitities. In the following conclusion, we summarize our major findings and identify
implications for future research.
7 Conclusion
The aim of this paper was to identify and better understand the value contribution of
strategic foresight activities. The potential value contributions identified through the literature
analysis were classified according to Daft and Weick’s [26] “organizations as interpretation
32
systems” model, which helps link strategic foresight activities not only with enhanced
perception, but also with the capacity to interpret changes and propose adequate responses. In
addition, we identified two overall potential value creations: organizational learning and the
capacity to influence other actors to, for example, help develop new markets.
Creating a framework for potential value contributions was an important guide for our
empirical investigation, and it should also be able to link research on strategic foresight with
research in other management disciplines, which is crucial to further developing the field [46].
The aim of our empirical investigation was to identify the value that firms capture today.
We investigated 77 firms that had been carrying out formalized strategic foresight activities
for at least the past three years. By basing our study on the receivers of foresight information,
we reduced the risk of getting exaggerated value creation assessments. By classifying the
firms into three categories, based on the increase in sales volume, we were able to determine
whether successful companies are getting more value from their strategic foresight activities.
The empirical investigation resulted in three major findings:
All potential value contributions are achievable. All individual value contributions have
been confirmed by at least a few firms. This means that, if formalized strategic foresight
activities are implemented, then a firm can expect: (1) an enhanced perception, (2) an
enhanced ability to interpret change, and (3) an enhanced ability to propose responses,
together with an enhanced capacity for organizational learning and influencing others.
Enhanced perception is the most prominent of all value contributions. The highest figures
were for firms, which report an enhanced perception, either through (1) gaining insights into
changes in the environment, or (2) reducing uncertainty. However, while 38% of top
performers reported an enhanced perception, the success rate for the other areas is smaller:
33
interpretation and usage for strategic management (29%), interpretation and usage for
innovation management (32%), and overall value contributions (34%). This means that the
first phase of Daft and Weick’s framework [26] is the one that is serviced the best. The others
have room for improvement.
Successful companies are also more likely to get value from their foresight activities.
That can be seen most clearly in figure 8, where top performers report more often a value
creation than low performers. On perception, top performers beat low performers by 9% (38%
to 29%), on interpretation and usage for strategic management by 8% (29% to 11%), on
interpretation and usage for innovation management by 19% (32% to 13%), and on overall
value contribution by 21% (34% to 13%). This overview also emphasizes that top performers
are better at capturing the overall portfolio of value creations, while low performers mostly
capture value related to perception and strategic management.
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... Importantly, they have been developed based primarily on conceptual reasoning (e.g., Fergnani, 2020); offer a historical timeline on the development of the CF content as evolved in one journal (e.g., Gordon et al., 2020) or in general (e.g., Rohrbeck, Battistella, & Huizingh, 2015); or adopt a narrow perspective that focuses on CF-related toolssuch as using data mining in scanning the environment (e.g., Mühlroth & Grottke, 2018). This highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach to integrating empirical scholarly effort pertaining to CF given that CF antecedents, core activities, and influencing factors are derived from various research streams (e.g., strategic management, decision making, organizational learning, and futures studies) (Fergnani, 2020, Rohrbeck & Schwarz, 2013, and cover a variety of diverse domains (e.g. marketing and innovation management) Sarpong & Meissner, 2018). ...
... The moderating factor of CF legitimation is dependent on managerial inclusion in CF activities, as emphasized by a broad set of research. By engaging in CF and prioritizing it, managers create credibility among organization members (Peter & Jarratt, 2015;Rohrbeck, 2012;Rohrbeck & Schwarz, 2013;Savioz & Blum, 2002;Tapinos, 2013). However, if CF is not a management priority, it lacks the required entitlement, causing ineffectiveness (Battistella, 2014;Daheim & Uerz, 2008). ...
... A large amount of research focuses on CF's managerial impact on performance (Milshina & Vishnevskiy, 2018). Scholars agree that a positive managerial view on CF facilitates outcomes (Daheim & Uerz, 2008;Engau et al., 2011;Klos & Spieth, 2020;Peter & Jarratt, 2015;Rohrbeck & Schwarz, 2013;Tapinos, 2013). Therefore, future-oriented and change-willing management are essential (Haarhaus & Liening, 2020). ...
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... This research aims to conduct a technology assessment on patent search engine technology to understand the trends of patent search engine development. Patent analysis helps them understand the implications of alternative technological or societal paths (Rohrbeck & Schwarz, 2013). Several previous studies have indeed carried out technology assessments based on patent analysis. ...
... However, no previous research on patent analysis focuses on analysing the technological development of patent search engines. Therefore, this paper attempts to fill this gap by exploring the patent data information related to patent search engine technology (Rohrbeck & Schwarz, 2013). ...
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... Nevertheless, a major hurdle prevails that the design of operating business model traditionally fails to integrate the dimension of sustainability (Upward and Jones, 2016). Hence, the extent of sustainability is generally not appropriately comprehended because of insufficient planning, narrow scope of operations, and low competence of human resources in integrating employees and systematic undertakings in sustainable manners (Rohrbeck and Schwarz, 2013). Ultimately, the opportunity for innovation and sustainability during business-value generation processes is wasted. ...
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... Dessa maneira, o processo de previsão da firma deve possibilitar que as firmas percebam mudanças em seus ambientes, entendam como o futuro pode evoluir e desencadeiem respostas organizacionais que criem ou sustentem uma vantagem competitiva (Rohrbeck & Schwarz, 2013). Essas respostas envolvem as decisões de investimento. ...
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... Resilience against uncertainty is built by thinking about different future scenarios and how to deal with them (Hillmann et al. 2018). One can build this type of resilience by tackling cognitive biases affecting assessments of probability, by enhancing collective sense-making in strategic thinking, and by creating an understanding of possible changes in the environment (Rohrbeck and Schwarz 2013). ...
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... Há um extenso conjunto de abordagens relacionadas à Foresight, cada uma delas com diferentes conceitualizações. Podemos citar Environment Scanning (Choo, 2001;Karami, 2012;Zhang & Majid, 2009), Corporate Foresight (Daheim & Uerz, 2008;Rohrbeck, 2012;Rohrbeck & Gemünden, 2011), Scenario Planning (Raford, 2015;Chermack, 2004;Amer et al., 2013), Competitive Intelligence (Fuld, 2006;López-Robles et al., 2020), Strategic Foresight (Vecchiato & Roveda, 2010;Rohrbeck & Schwarz, 2013), Strategic Intelligence (Kuosa, 2011;Aguirre, 2015), Anticipatory Strategic Intelligence (Lesca, 2003;Caron-Fasan & Janissek-Muniz, 2004;Janissek-Muniz et al., 2007). Estes conceitos têm em comum o monitoramento e a análise das informações provenientes do ambiente empresarial, de forma sistemática, com um método específico, a fim de identificar elementos estratégicos que permitam, aos tomadores de decisão, gerar uma vantagem competitiva através da análise de possíveis cenários futuros do mercado. ...
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Getrieben durch den gestiegenen Innovationsdruck und den erhöhten Bedarf nach strategischer Orientierung, ist in den letzten Jahren das Interesse der Unternehmen an den Methoden und Erkenntnissen der Trend- und Zukunftsforschung stark gewachsen: Etliche Kongresse, Praxiszirkel und Netzwerke wurden zum Thema ins Leben gerufen, eine Vielzahl an neuen Foresight-Agenturen und Think-Tanks wurde gegründet und sogar klassische, gestandene Strategieberatungen bieten heute umfangreiche Dienstleistungen im Bereich „Strategic Foresight“ an. Wer möchte, kann sich heute täglich mit neuen Trendlettern, Zukunftsstudien, Impulsartikeln, „Insights“, „Alerts“ oder „schwachen Signalen“ eindecken.
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Have you ever wondered why even large companies fail when faced with changes in their environment? Would you be surprised to learn that the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company is below 50 years? This book presents findings from 19 case studies in multinational companies such as Siemens, Volkwagen, General Electric, Philips and Deutsche Telekom. René Rohrbeck proposes a Maturity Model to assess how prepared a company is to respond to external (disruptive) change. He uses data from 107 interviews with board members, corporate strategists, innovation managers, and corporate foresight professionals to present and discuss best practices. Using illustrations to show the complex interaction of corporate foresight with other units such as innovation and strategic management, René Rohrbeck provides the reader with rich insights on how to make an organization agile and reactive towards change. For scholars this book proposes multiple hypotheses and frameworks for future research. "Both the model and practice examples contained within make the book a worthwhile reference for companies seeking to enhance their ability to succeed in a changing environment." Peter Möckel and Heinrich Arnold of Deutsche Telekom Laboratories. "His maturity model and the identified best practices contribute to both strategic management and innovation management theory and will help pave the way toward a better understanding of how companies can build "dynamic capabilities". Hans Georg Gemünden of Technische Universität Berlin. "The thesis of Rene´ Rohrbeck on Corporate Foresight will help managers create an understanding about its breadth and depth; they will learn to know what to expect from their investments and to judge the effectiveness of their Corporate Foresight practices. Martin G. Möhrle of University of Bremen. "With this book, the author opens new perspectives, contributes valuable empirical evidence, and generates important new insights, which will take research and management practice in Corporate Foresight to a new level." Ulrich Krystek of Technische Universität Berlin.
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