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Foresight by design: Supporting strategic innovation with systematic futures thinking

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This conceptual paper draws attention to the growing need for organisations to meet the demands of rapid social and technological changes, to practice futures thinking at the front end of innovation. While most product or service innovations focus on meeting current market needs (typically over a 1-3-year time horizon), the purpose of this paper is motivated by our limited understanding of how designers and interdisciplinary innovation practitioners learn to navigate disruption, make sense of complexity, and deal with uncertainty to envisage the medium and longer-term futures (5-15 years) of social and technology environments. Acknowledging the complexity of sociotechnology systems, innovation stakeholders have to work together to both envisage higher order, more innovative, and sustainable solutions that will yield the greatest economic and social benefits (Buhring, 2017; Heskett, 2009; Hines & Zindato, 2016; Liedtka, 1998; Meroni, 2008; Slaughter, 2002). In this paper, we review the literature spanning a diverse set of disciplines at both macro and micro levels, with emphasis placed on how innovation stakeholders may engage with the future in order to explore the challenges to decision-making they highlight. From this review, and a series of facilitators identified by the authors in previous design and futures thinking field research, critical perspectives are presented that illustrate how systematic futures thinking can inform decision-makers of the innovation challenges and opportunities that will emerge over the medium and longer-term time horizon. Consequently, optimising systematic futures thinking as a core capability may strengthen the organisation’s sense of direction and its capacity to innovate in the face of social and technological uncertainties (Kock, Heising, & Gemünden, 2015). Derived from these insights, we set out some hypotheses around the broader role of the strategic design conversation to include systematic futures thinking as a transformational approach to producing visions of preferable and desirable futures. Practicing systematic futures thinking, we argue, will foster sustainable innovations by detecting early warning signals of change and giving deeper insights into the phenomenon behind these signs. Subsequently, applying systematic futures thinking could become concrete knowledge and processes for strategic innovation in product and service industries. This conceptual approach, moreover, will offer important considerations that may help overcome weaknesses in the alignment of visions between strategy, innovation and foresight functions, which is the purpose of design thinking and practice.
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TO GET
THERE:
DESIGNING
TOGETHER
Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Cumulus Conference
Proceedings Series
03/2018 Paris
Foresight by
design
Supporting
strategic
innovation with
systematic
futures thinking
Jörn Bühring, Jeanne Liedtka
330 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
Abstract
This conceptual paper draws attention to the growing need for or-
ganisations to meet the demands of rapid social and technological
changes, and to practice foresight at the front end of innovation.
While most product or service innovations focus on meeting current
market needs (typically over a 1–3-year time period), there is still
precious little real understanding in how designers and interdisci-
plinary innovation practitioners learn to navigate disruption, make
sense of complexity, and deal with uncertainty of social and tech-
nology environments over the medium and long-term time horizon
(5–15 years). Acknowledging the complexity of socio-technological
systems, stakeholders in design innovation have to work together
toenvisage higher order, more innovative, and sustainable solutions
that will yield the greatest economic and social benefits (Buhring,
2017; Heskett, 2009; Hines & Zindato, 2016; Liedtka, 1998; Meroni,
2008; Slaughter, 2002). In this paper, we review the strategy, design
and foresight literature at both macro and micro levels, with empha-
sis placed on how interdisciplinary innovation practitioners may
engage with the future in order to explore the challenges to decision-
making they highlight (Ferraro & Cassiman, 2014). From this review,
and a series of facilitators identified by our own design and foresight
field research, critical perspectives are presented that illustrate how
foresight by design can inform decision-makers of the innovation
challenges and opportunities that will emerge over the medium and
longer-term time horizon. Consequently, optimising foresight as a
core capability may strengthen the organisation’s sense of direction
and its capacity to innovate in the face of social and technological
uncertainties (Kock, Heising, & Gemünden, 2015). Derived from
these insights, weset out some hypotheses around the broader role
of the strategic design conversation to include systematic futures
thinking as a common language and transformational approach to
producing visions of preferable and desirable futures. Practicing
systematic futures thinking, we argue, will foster sustainable innova-
tions by detecting early warning signals of change and giving deep-
er insights into the phenomenon behind these signs. Subsequently,
applying systematic futures thinking could become concrete knowl-
edge and processes for strategic innovations in product and service
industries. This conceptual approach, moreover, will oer important
considerations that may help overcome weaknesses in the alignment
331 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
of visions between strategy, innovation and foresight functions,
which is the purpose of design thinking and practice.
Theme: Innovation
Keywords: strategic innovation, foresight, futures thinking,
managing uncertainty, preferable futures
1. Introduction
In this more competitive second decade of the 21st century, meeting the
demands of rapid social, technological and environmental change is
forcing continues attention to the organization’s vision and strategic
direction of dealing with uncertainty (Hamel & Valikangas, 2003). Global
economic integration (or globalization) is only one of the many challeng-
es facing organizations in an ever-more interconnected social, techno-
logical and environmental world, where no rm can retain a competitive
edge independently of others (Ireland & Hitt, 1999). Derived from com-
prehensive research into the drivers of uncertainty involving business
leaders (see Ferraro & Cassiman, 2014), Cassiman (2015) argues that the
drivers of uncertainty (globalization, digitization, communitization and
politicization) have a direct impact on the innovation eco-system.
Indeed, across the literatures of strategic management, foresight
anddesign, extensive references have been made to the external business
environment as a major source of uncertainty for strategic decision-
making (Hamel, 2002; Heskett, 2009; Hofer & Schendel, 1978; Rohrbeck,
Battistella, & Huizingh, 2015; Slaughter, 2002). In business, the purpose
of strategic planning is to assess a current status against a set of environ-
mental factors, thus determining an organizational roadmap (mission
goals) based on a vision for the future (Kaplan & Beinhocker, 2003). The
success of a strategic plan is reliant on adequate information that informs
the objectives, strategies, decision-making, and measuring of results
against a set of goals (Miller & Cardinal, 1994). The lack of certainty is
derived from a state of having limited knowledge over the existing exter-
nalities, the future outcome, or possible outcomes (Simon, 1955). Further-
more, the limitation of strategic planning is oen based on strategic deci-
sions,
which are primarily derived from interpreting information about
the past and present (Mintzberg, 1994).
Developing an organization’s strategic innovation direction against
arapidly evolving business environment, might pose further challenges;
332 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
for example, Clark and Fujimoto (1991) have argued that the process-driv-
en approach to strategic planning can impose constrains on creativity
and imagination of new innovations. Comparably, studies in the eld of
strategic management have identied that strategic planning and strate-
gic thinking are two distinct thinking modes. That is, strategic thinking is
intuitive, experimental and disruptive, and applied to create scenarios
which help formulate a vision of where the organization should be head-
ing (Heracleous, 1998; Liedtka, 1998). Hence, creativity and imagination
ought to be considered as important factors when the objective is to de-
tect emerging opportunities, or threats, resulting from macro drivers of
change in a company outside environment.
Across nearly all sectors of the economy, the axiom is that organiza-
tions have to respond to change in fundamental new ways if they are to
be successful in the future. Irrespective of a disciplines’ spoken language:
Designers speak of solving “wicked” problems, biologists talkof complex
adaptive systems, behavioural economists focus on evolutionary growth
theory; “…behind all of these dierences in nomenclature lies a wide-
spread suspicion that the mechanisms that ensured survival and indeed
prosperity in a stable and predictableworld – ones based largely on hier-
archical control – are likely to be ill-suited to an increasingly complex
and uncertain new one” (Liedtka, 2017, p.23). In spite of the wide-spread
acknowledgement of growing uncertainty over the rapidly changing exter-
nal
macro-business environment, however, a certain consensus seems
toexist that most product or service solutions continue to be informed by
current market needs, and over the short-term (1–3 year) time horizon
(Heger & Rohrbeck, 2012; A. Wilkinson, Mayer, & Ringler, 2014).
More recently, this development has prompted a call for business
leaders and educators to become more forward-thinking, and to develop
the organization’s innovation and creative capabilities to remain feasi-
blein the long-term (Kock et al., 2015; Koen et al., 2002; Van der Laan &
Yap, 2016). That is, making decision based on simply projecting today’s
market trends into the future is no longer possible (Saritas & Smith, 2011;
Vecchiato, 2015).
In this paper, we review the literature spanning a diverse set of disci-
plines at both macro and micro levels, with the emphasis on how inno-
vation stakeholders may engage with the future in order to explore the
challenges to decision-making they highlight. From our review, purpose-
fully across design and foresight disciplines, we draw attention to our
limited understanding of how designers and interdisciplinary innovation
333 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
practitioners learn to navigate disruption, make sense of complexity, and
deal with uncertainty to envisage the medium and longer-term futures
(5–15 years) of social and technology environments (Figure 1). Derived from
our own previous design and futures thinking eld research, key concep-
tual foresight facilitators are identied, which form the basis for system-
atic futures thinking approaches directed at the front end of innovation.
2. Foresight by design – context and definition
The contribution of our conceptual paper is to stimulate awareness of the
strategic and collaborative function of “foresight by design”, which we
dene as systematic futures thinking of preferable and desirable futures,
thus embracing uncertainty with action-provoking synthesis (futures
scenarios) envisaged from the dynamics of society and technological ad-
vancements
(Buhring, 2017; Buhring & Koskinen, 2017; Liedtka, 2017). We
deliberately used the term “futures thinking” to embrace a common lan-
guage between multi-disciplinary stakeholders applying design thinking
methodologies to problem-solving, and foresight techniques designed to
inform strategic opportunities for innovation that build on shared visions
of preferable or desirable futures.
Specically, we argue that the decision-making process applied to
the front end of innovation can benet from systematic futures thinking
across the medium and longer-term time horizon (5–15 years). That is,
dealing with uncertainty by collecting intelligence and analysing choices
to minimize the risks inherent in the innovation process (see Simon,
1955), also presents opportunities for systematic futures thinking of alter-
native futures that are sustainable in the face of social, technological, and
environmental challenges in this 21st Century. In this context, futures
thinking can be seen as types of activities focused on detecting medium
to longer-range opportunities and possibilities for strategic innovation,
Products&Services
Innovation
[MeetingMarketNeeds]
MegaTrends
[Technol ogyR oad-
mappi ng,Mar kettrends]
Long-rangeFuturesThinking
[GovernmentPolicies;fewCorpor ates,
e.g. Shell,Toyota, BASF,VW]
PRESENT THEFUTURE1– 3 years 25 100years
TheOrganization Futurist/Cons ultancy Dur abl egoods and proce ss industr ies
Foresight
byD esign
[dealing with
uncert ainty]
“T heGap”
5 - 15years 10+years
Figure 1.“Foresight by Design” – addressing the ‘systematic futures
thinking gap’ across the medium to longer-term time horizon
334 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
as the ‘results from foresight [deliver] an important feed into the innova-
tion process’ (Rohrbeck, 2012, p. 445).
3. What is the role of Design in business and innovation?
Though originally focused on the new product development eld, the role
of design in business has gradually expanded beyond merely creating
and communicating better products and services. Design is now being
understood by its totality of activities in form of competencies and capa-
bilities that span across the entire innovation eco-system, involving in-
terdisciplinary stakeholder teams responsible for creating sustainable
value propositions that ensure the organization’s future (Bohemia, Rieple,
Liedtka, & Cooper, 2014; Buhring, 2017; Heskett, 2001; Lojacono & Zaccai,
2004). The expansion of design as a strategic capability in business and
innovation, is oen addressed through strategic (or advanced) design
activities which enable the designer to consider hard constraints imposed
by an organization (internal environment), against ecological and social
impacts, and the cultural sensibilities and symbolic meaning that inform
scenarios of external environments in a rapidly changing society (Daal-
huizen, Badke-Schaub, & Batill, 2009; Meroni, 2008).
Strategic design, for example, has played a key role in Product Ser-
vice Systems (PPS), shiing the innovation focus from product design to
an integrated product-service solution (Manzini & Vezzoli, 2003). More
recently, globalization, technological advancements and increasing busi-
ness complexity have placed new demands on strategic design to go
beyond satisfying short-term innovation goals (Manzini & Meroni, 2007).
Design principles applied in the development of an organization’s future-
orientation, have positioned strategic design as an organizational compe-
tence that looks beyond one-time creative outputs (products or services),
toward design as an organizational activity that can lead to sustained
innovation and competiveness (Boztepe, 2016; Heskett, 2001; Mozota,
1998). In related research (Buhring & Koskinen, 2017), we identied spe-
cic design practices developed to deal with the future. These, for exam-
ple, build on studies of extreme users inspired by von Hippel’s notion
oflead users (Djajadiningrat, Gaver, & Fres, 2000), practices in crowd-
sourcing (Kurvinen, Koskinen, & Battarbee, 2008), and experience proto-
typing techniques (Buchenau & Suri, 2000). A recent trend in design is
also propounding ction as a way to envisage or create futures (Bleecker,
2009; A. Dunne & Raby, 2013).
335 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
Concurrently, progressive organizations over the past two decades
have noted the favourable use of design principles applied to prob lem-
solving, sparking the popularity of design thinking processes and applica-
tions
toward transformative innovations in a global economy (D.Dunne &
Martin, 2006; Liedtka, 1998; Oster, 2008). Indeed, while the value of de-
sign thinking is almost always seen to be improvements in thecreativ-
ityand usefulness of the solutions produced, the methodology has fur-
ther potential for unifying interdisciplinary stakeholder conver sations
that enhance a collective’s ability to align, learn, and change together
(Liedtka, 2017). In coupling these perspectives, the hypothesis isthat
systematic futures thinking activities can oer decision-makers aholistic
view on looming issues. The role of design, particularly its creative think-
ing, scenario building, visualization and prototyping competencies,
mayhelp produce tangible images that further advance col lective visions
of futures as preferable and desirable (Buhring, 2017; Buhring & Koski-
nen, 2017; Heskett, 2001; Koh, Slingsby, Dykes, & Kam, 2011; Manzini &
Vezzoli, 2003). That is, the advantages of futures thinking applied at
thefront end of innovation, can lead to the creation of future value, and
the development of perceptions about futures that may inform decisions
or strategies needed to prepare for alternative possi bilities. While most
organizations fail to look beyond a narrow set of factors, evidence sug-
gests that rms who have recognized the powers of futures thinking
andstrategic design approaches as an important resource in the inno-
vation process, are indeed those who achieve sustainable competitive
advantages (Grant, 2010; Heskett, 2009; Manko, Rode, & Faste, 2013;
Martin, 2009).
4. What is the role of Foresight in
business and innovation?
The foresight discipline encompasses a wide range of approaches and
activities designed to help business stakeholders deal with uncertainty
(Inayatullah, 2008). Slaughter (2002), in Voros (2003, p.4), positions
foresight applied in business as a pragmatic approach to addressing the
strategic questions of how to survive in an increasing competitive envi-
ronment. Foresight methodologies use techniques such as macro trend
analysis and expert knowledge to explore alternative futures (Figure 2)
and classify them into possible, plausible, probable, and preferable (Han-
cock & Bezold, 1993; Voros, 2001).
Figure 2.The “future cone” – adapted from Hancock and Bezold (1993)
336 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
The very objective of foresight is to consider dierent ways (alternative
futures) in which the external environment may evolve over the next 5–15
years, or even longer (Dator, 2009; Slaughter, 2002; Voros, 2003). To illus-
trate its signicance, designers and interdisciplinary innovation stake-
holders may ask, “what would the response to uncertainty have to be if a
future were to unfold that was distinctively dierent from the one antici-
pated in the current strategic innovation plan”? Foresight methodologies
express these type of inquiries in form of futures scenario statements that
help prepare for, or actively shape the future, and these methodologies
are usually qualitative rather than quantitative in nature (Cuhls, 2003).
The practice of foresight is eective when decision-makers let go of
their subjective views of reality (i.e. emotions, personal judgement), and
align these more closely between the objective reality (fact-based, meas-
urable and observable) and possible futures (Mietzner & Reger, 2005). In
other words, thinking about dierent possibilities through futures sce-
nario building, allows decision-makers at the strategic end of innovation
to envisage dierent futures possibilities and outcomes. Consequently,
asystematic approach to futures thinking is based on futures scenarios
that explore holistic, integrated, and alternative futures, enriched through
design as tangible images of how preferable and desirable futures might
be shaped. Contrary to the conventional practice of extrapolating trends
from the present (i.e. forecasting), futures scenarios are speculative im-
ages of preferable and desirable futures that form a necessary foundation
of the scenario planning process (Slaughter, 2000; L. Wilkinson, 1997).
Concurrently, progressive organizations over the past two decades
have noted the favourable use of design principles applied to prob lem-
solving, sparking the popularity of design thinking processes and applica-
tions
toward transformative innovations in a global economy (D.Dunne &
Martin, 2006; Liedtka, 1998; Oster, 2008). Indeed, while the value of de-
sign thinking is almost always seen to be improvements in thecreativ-
ityand usefulness of the solutions produced, the methodology has fur-
ther potential for unifying interdisciplinary stakeholder conver sations
that enhance a collective’s ability to align, learn, and change together
(Liedtka, 2017). In coupling these perspectives, the hypothesis isthat
systematic futures thinking activities can oer decision-makers aholistic
view on looming issues. The role of design, particularly its creative think-
ing, scenario building, visualization and prototyping competencies,
mayhelp produce tangible images that further advance col lective visions
of futures as preferable and desirable (Buhring, 2017; Buhring & Koski-
nen, 2017; Heskett, 2001; Koh, Slingsby, Dykes, & Kam, 2011; Manzini &
Vezzoli, 2003). That is, the advantages of futures thinking applied at
thefront end of innovation, can lead to the creation of future value, and
the development of perceptions about futures that may inform decisions
or strategies needed to prepare for alternative possi bilities. While most
organizations fail to look beyond a narrow set of factors, evidence sug-
gests that rms who have recognized the powers of futures thinking
andstrategic design approaches as an important resource in the inno-
vation process, are indeed those who achieve sustainable competitive
advantages (Grant, 2010; Heskett, 2009; Manko, Rode, & Faste, 2013;
Martin, 2009).
4. What is the role of Foresight in
business and innovation?
The foresight discipline encompasses a wide range of approaches and
activities designed to help business stakeholders deal with uncertainty
(Inayatullah, 2008). Slaughter (2002), in Voros (2003, p.4), positions
foresight applied in business as a pragmatic approach to addressing the
strategic questions of how to survive in an increasing competitive envi-
ronment. Foresight methodologies use techniques such as macro trend
analysis and expert knowledge to explore alternative futures (Figure 2)
and classify them into possible, plausible, probable, and preferable (Han-
cock & Bezold, 1993; Voros, 2001).
Figure 2.The “future cone” – adapted from Hancock and Bezold (1993)
337 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
Consequently, combining design and foresight principles may help deci-
sion-makers deal with the uncertainties through futures scenarios and
tangible images based on dierent possibilities, and then selecting and
integrating the most preferable and desirable futures in the strategic
innovation planning process.
5. Design and foresight as an evolving relationship
In seeking opportunities to link futures thinking capabilities to strategy
and innovation, scholars have identied parallels in the elds of de-
signand foresight (see Buhring & Koskinen, 2017; Evans, 2012; Hines &
Zindato, 2016; A. Wilkinson et al., 2014). Describing such parallels be-
tween the foresight and design disciplines (Hines & Zindato, 2016), Hines
(a futurist) and Zindato (a designer) identied and analysed the common
use of scenario building practices in anticipating alternative futures.
Indesign practice, typically, scenarios are developed to communicate,
validate and endorse design decisions about user actions in the micro
scale product and service development context (Evans, 2003; Martin,
2009). Comparatively, in foresight, scenarios are developed as stories
about alternative futures at macro scale, or across whole systems (Hines
& Zindato, 2016; Rasmussen, 2005).
In design practice, more commonly the use of scenarios at varying
stages of the innovation process is closely aligned with detecting insights
from users addressing their current needs (Martin, 2009). While in fore-
sight practice, scenarios are used to create stories about how futures
might or could develop, and what should be done to prepare for these
eventual changes in the organizations’ surrounding environment (Chan
& Daim, 2012; Slaughter, 1995). This can also be visualized based on the
aforementioned future cone (Hancock & Bezold, 1993), where the design
thinking realm is concerned with scenarios based on identifying cur-
rentuser needs (1–3 year time horizon), while futures thinking is needed
anticipating future scenarios based on opportunities that may inform
consumer needs they cannot articulate – or may not yet know they want
and desire (Figure 2).
Consequently, across both elds an obvious relationship evolves
around the use of scenarios as evidence-based narratives, which are
ultimately designed to help innovation teams, and their organization,
identify and make better informed choices. To this end, the linkage be-
tween foresight and design principles become hybrid futures thinking
Figure 3.Design and futures thinking scenario transitions along
the “future cone” – adapted from Hancock and Bezold (1994)
338 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
techniques that inform both the “what?” is changing over the medium
tolonger-term horizon (5–15 years), and the “how?” this may translate
into creative and innovative images and narratives of possible futures.
As design and foresight are growing closer together (Buhring, 2017;
Evans, 2012; Hines & Zindato, 2016), a deeper understanding is needed
inhow designers and interdisciplinary innovation team may apply, and
benet, from systematic futures thinking (approaches, tools, and tech-
niques), and how inter-disciplinary innovation teams may collaborate
with overlapping disciplines in framing desirable and shared visions of
futures (plural = many possibilities).
6. Key conceptual futures thinking factors
Derived from cross-disciplinary insights, and our own research in design
and foresight studies, the hypotheses around the broader role of the
strategic design conversation, is to include systematic futures thinking as
a transformational approach to producing visions of desirable futures.
Resulting from theoretical and applied eld research, a series of concep-
tual “high-level” futures thinking factors were identied:
Consequently, combining design and foresight principles may help deci-
sion-makers deal with the uncertainties through futures scenarios and
tangible images based on dierent possibilities, and then selecting and
integrating the most preferable and desirable futures in the strategic
innovation planning process.
5. Design and foresight as an evolving relationship
In seeking opportunities to link futures thinking capabilities to strategy
and innovation, scholars have identied parallels in the elds of de-
signand foresight (see Buhring & Koskinen, 2017; Evans, 2012; Hines &
Zindato, 2016; A. Wilkinson et al., 2014). Describing such parallels be-
tween the foresight and design disciplines (Hines & Zindato, 2016), Hines
(a futurist) and Zindato (a designer) identied and analysed the common
use of scenario building practices in anticipating alternative futures.
Indesign practice, typically, scenarios are developed to communicate,
validate and endorse design decisions about user actions in the micro
scale product and service development context (Evans, 2003; Martin,
2009). Comparatively, in foresight, scenarios are developed as stories
about alternative futures at macro scale, or across whole systems (Hines
& Zindato, 2016; Rasmussen, 2005).
In design practice, more commonly the use of scenarios at varying
stages of the innovation process is closely aligned with detecting insights
from users addressing their current needs (Martin, 2009). While in fore-
sight practice, scenarios are used to create stories about how futures
might or could develop, and what should be done to prepare for these
eventual changes in the organizations’ surrounding environment (Chan
& Daim, 2012; Slaughter, 1995). This can also be visualized based on the
aforementioned future cone (Hancock & Bezold, 1993), where the design
thinking realm is concerned with scenarios based on identifying cur-
rentuser needs (1–3 year time horizon), while futures thinking is needed
anticipating future scenarios based on opportunities that may inform
consumer needs they cannot articulate – or may not yet know they want
and desire (Figure 2).
Consequently, across both elds an obvious relationship evolves
around the use of scenarios as evidence-based narratives, which are
ultimately designed to help innovation teams, and their organization,
identify and make better informed choices. To this end, the linkage be-
tween foresight and design principles become hybrid futures thinking
Figure 3.Design and futures thinking scenario transitions along
the “future cone” – adapted from Hancock and Bezold (1994)
339 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
6.1 Achieving insight and alignment around current reality
Though the future might appear to be the most logical initial emphasis in
foresight work, one contribution of strategic design to foresight is to insist
on grounding discussions of the future in an immersion in the reality of
today, with a focus on both gaining deep and novel insights into today’s
challenges and customer pain-points, and establishing alignment across
critical stakeholders about key elements of the present situation. This
aims to accomplish two ends. The rst is to facilitate reframing of the ini-
tial
question, by challenging decision-makers to examine the assump-
tions they are bringing into the denition of the problem itself. The second
is to work towards aligning the views of key stakeholders around critical
design criteria that describe the ideal future.
Case study example: In a recent 2030 futures study involving a het-
erogeneous group of industry experts in the nancial services sec-
tor (Buhring, 2017), the Delphi method was used as a basis for fore-
sight. In the rst Delphi survey round, the objective was to ignite
aconversation around the prevailing innovation system, and probe
deeper into what denes the current “status quo”. Data analysed
atthe end of this survey round provided important insights as to
which products and services are considered as drivers of continues
growth. Similarly, the data highlighted that the focus was placed
oninnovations addressing current customer needs. Due to the diver-
sity
of participants in both their backgrounds, perspectives, and
experiences, a broad range of opinions were recorded as to what
arethe signs of change that would have impact on the organization.
Hence, establishing what is going on today, and aligning the per-
spectives across relevant stakeholders in the innovation eco-system,
befalls as an important factor in initiating and practicing futures
thinking (see Curry & Hodgson, 2008; Morrison & Wilson, 1997).
6.2 Facilitating a productive design conversation
An important goal of the design conversation is emergence: the develop-
ment of previously unseen possibilities that emerge when a group of
stakeholders with diverse perspectives is involved in a generative conver-
sation, in contrast to an evaluative one where the starting point is a set of
existing identiable options. In order to accomplish this, the conversa-
tion must achieve two things: (1) nding a blend of inquiry and advocacy
340 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
and (2) leveraging the diversity within the conversation to produce higher
order solutions rather than divisive debates. The two are closely related.
The way to turn theoretical diversity into actual creativity is to change
thenature of the conversation itself to incorporate an increasing role for
dialogue as well as debate, for inquiry as well as advocacy. Participants
in such conversations listen to understand rather than argue and listen
for possibilities rather than weaknesses. Design thinking’s tools for col-
laborative problem solving can assist the search for higher-order solu-
tions by oering a structured process in which that dialogue and inquiry
occurs, and where divergent views are surfaced and explored, rather than
relying solely on the skills of the leader of the conversation.
Case study example: Resultant from the aforementioned 2030 fu-
tures study (Buhring, 2017), a series of futures scenario statements
were produced as consensus toward the Delphi panels’ combined
vision of preferable or desirable futures. From this research, a sub-
sequent study phase was initiated to expand on the stories and
narratives contained in each scenario at a deeper level, thus mov-
ing the design conversation from information gathering, to process-
ing the inherent cues for specic potential new futures. A key ob-
servation in this study phase was noticed by designers and interdis-
ciplinary innovation practitioners who questioned the dominant
business logic, which in context of the traditional nancial services
business and operating model, was considered in conict between
the embedded present and these imagined futures.
6.3 Specifying a portfolio of desirable futures
Whereas scenario building might tend to focus on possible and plausible
futures, design brings a strong emphasis on specifying a set of preferred
futures. In this way, its intent lies more with shaping the future than
merely responding to it. Like scenario planning, the emphasis is on op-
tionality – specifying a range of dierent future options. Design also
suggests that new futures, in order to become realities, must be experi-
enced, rather than merely thought: they must be more than cognitive,
they must be vivid, personally meaningful, and compelling to the mem-
bers of the organization who must adopt new behaviours in order to ex-
ecute them. The idea of experiencing a new future in an emotional as
well as cognitive way is grounded in an interpretive, socially constructed
341 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
perspective, rather than an objectively rational one. One core dilemmas
in moving an organization into a new future, then, is how to make new
ideas tangible. Architects build models, product designers construct pro-
totypes
– but prototyping a new future is more challenging to envision.
This is where design’s emphasis on visualization tools like storytelling
contribute to foresight work.
Case study example: An enterprise soware rm used design think-
ing to explore and discuss potentially disruptive changes in their
industry. The company melded design thinking’s emphasis on visu-
alization
and storytelling with traditional approaches to strategic
foresight in order to compose and communicate new strategies.
Carefully constructed prototypes told the story of the strategic im-
perative
they faced at varying levels of detail – from the high-level
warning of the potential obsolescence of their core capabilities to the
plight of a salesperson responding to a customer’s pricing request.
From executive dashboard to salesperson’s inbox, the connections
were illuminated. The prototypes not only engaged; they claried,
allowing people at dierent level to better understand the specics
of how the new futures impacted their roles and activities.
7. Conclusions
Practicing systematic futures thinking will foster sustainable innovations
by detecting early warning signs of change and giving deeper insights into
the phenomenon behind these signs. Thus, applying systematic futures
thinking could become concrete knowledge and processes for strategic
innovation in product and service industries. However, as we have high-
lighted in this conceptual paper, there is still precious little real under-
standing in how designers and interdisciplinary innovation practitioners
learn to navigate disruption, make sense of complexity, and deal with
uncertainty to envisage the medium and longer-term futures (5–15 years)
of social and technology environments.
The conceptual approach of “futures thinking” at the front end of
innovation, may also oer important considerations that can help over-
come weaknesses in the alignment of visions between design and fore-
sight functions applied to innovation, which is the purpose of design
thinking and practice. Consequently, we acknowledge the ever-growing
need for innovation, design, and foresight stakeholders to work closer
342 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
together to both envisage higher order, more innovative and sustainable
solutions that will yield the greatest economic and social benets (Buhring,
2017; Heskett, 2009; Hines & Zindato, 2016; Liedtka, 1998; Meroni, 2008;
Slaughter, 2002).
To this end, we have put forward some hypotheses, which suggest
that systematic futures thinking activities can oer decision-makers a
holistic view on looming issues, and that the role of design (creative think-
ing,
scenario building, visualization, and prototyping competencies),
oers a transformational approach to producing tangible images (visions)
of preferable and desirable futures. While there are many methods in
design and foresight disciplines relevant to opportunity identication, the
value of systematic futures thinking is based on the strategic use of pro-
ducing visions of preferable and desirable futures (scenarios), which
canhelp inform decision-makers of the innovation challenges and oppor-
tunities that will emerge over the medium and longer-term time horizon
(Buhring, 2017; Buhring & Koskinen, 2017; Kock et al., 2015).
The review of the design and foresight literature, and knowledge
gained from our own applied eld research, have identied key concep-
tual futures thinking factors that can assist interdisciplinary innovation
stakeholder teams integrate systematic futures thinking at the front end
of innovation process. At a conceptual level, the determining factors are
based on “current reality”, “design conversations”, and “establishing
new futures”, which will enhance the active experimentation and execu-
tion stages at the strategic end of innovation.
Jörn Bühring
Research assistant professor,
School of Design,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China
joern.buehring@polyu.edu.hk
Jeanne Liedtka
Professor, Darden Graduate School
of Business University of Virginia, USA
343 Cumulus Conference Proceedings Paris 2018
Foresight by design
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