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Abstract

Strategic foresight activities in both research and practice aim to identify superior courses of action in situations of future uncertainty and change. While the field has existed for more than 70 years and has its own concepts and methodologies, over time it has incorporated and used many of the theories and methods found in cognate fields, particularly in strategy and innovation management. The reverse is also true as these various areas of study have begun to adopt the frameworks of a maturing foresight field. However, these interfaces are frequently encapsulated and restrained by paradigmatic rigidity. The objective of this article is to raise awareness and build bridges across these parallel but often unconnected fields of research endeavor. In particular, we review traces of foresight in cognate literatures and highlight "forward-looking search" as a promising way to formulate a joint conversation. The papers of the IEEE-TEMS special issue on foresight in strategy and innovation management are introduced, with their particular contributions that echo our call to build bridges across closely associated fields.
IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT 1
Foresight in Strategy and Innovation Management:
Introduction to IEEE TEM Special Issue
Abstract—Strategic foresight activities in both research and
practice aim to identify superior courses of action in situations of
future uncertainty and change. While the field has existed for more
than 70 years and has its own concepts and methodologies, over time
it has incorporated and used many of the theories and methods
found in cognate fields, particularly in strategy and innovation
management. The reverse is also true as these various areas of
study have begun to adopt the frameworks of a maturing foresight
field. However, these interfaces are frequently encapsulated and
restrained by paradigmatic rigidity. The objective of this article is
to raise awareness and build bridges across these parallel but often
unconnected fields of research endeavor. In particular, we review
traces of foresight in cognate literatures and highlight “forward-
looking search” as a promising way to formulate a joint conver-
sation. The papers of the IEEE-TEMS special issue on foresight
in strategy and innovation management are introduced, with their
particular contributions that echo our call to build bridges across
closely associated fields.
Index Terms—Futures, innovation management, open
innovation, organizational theory, strategic foresight, strategy.
I. INTRODUCTION
THE field of strategic foresight develops perspectives and
practices that anticipate transformational change and pre-
pares organization to navigate them. It develops capabilities that
enable decision-makers see and evaluate future situations so as
to better consider alternative courses of actions and the future
outcomes of their choices [1], [2]. As a research stream, strategic
foresight has existed for more than 70 years [3]–[5]. During
this time, evaluation of the field has documented how the use of
strategic foresight to form strategy under uncertainty has enabled
organizations to create superior positions in future markets or to
advance societal goals [6], [7].
Over this time, strategic foresight has incorporated and used
many of the theories and methods found in cognate fields,
particularly in strategy and innovation. The reverse is also true
as these fields have begun to adopt the frameworks of a maturing
foresight field. Among these, strategy has found value exploring
the relationship between organizations and their futures, partic-
ularly in the dynamic capabilities perspective which highlights
the need to renew and align organizational resources when faced
with external changes. From another perspective, the behavioral
theory of the firm (BTF) emphasizes that to create strategies that
are markedly different from the status quo, cognitive bounds
need to be overcome [8]. Kaplan and Orlikowski [9] have
documented that temporal work, in which strategy teams discuss
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TEM.2021.3077342
the past, present, and future, is key for overcoming strategy
breakdowns, that is, that strategists use the tension between the
data from the past, perception of the present, and anticipation
of the future to fuel a creative and forward-looking strategic
discussion.
In a related vein, the innovation management literature has
gained a strong momentum in opening up. Open innovation
highlights the role of purposeful knowledge from the exter-
nal environment [10]. The discussions around business model
innovation have included the need to create an appropriate
firm value over time in view of changing and future circum-
stances [11]. User innovation studies nurture insights toward a
“need-forecasting-laboratory” [12]. Design thinking offers the
opportunity to consider the needs of not only present but also
potential future users by way of foresight processes such as
future scenarios [13].
Authors such as Makridakis and Taleb [14] and Alvarez
et al.[15]haveobservedthatorganizationalfuture-thinking
ubiquitously uses models that assume environments where dis-
tributions of possible future states can be known and for which
probability can be known. Or, said differently, that organiza-
tions assume that we can model future uncertainties as if it
were merely risk. As we look around at many industries in
the early 2020s, this feels like a brittle assumption, which
explains why we are witnessing renewal of research oriented
to management under true (Knightian) future uncertainty and
that various streams of work including and alongside strategic
foresight are congregating to address this [15]. In this special
issue, we aim to catalyze the integration of those conversations
and facilitate stronger bridge-building between these emerging
knowledge pools.
As editors of this special issue, our purpose is to recognize and
foster a richer understanding of the productive overlap between
strategic foresight and its strategy and innovation cognate areas
to seed growing links and point to areas of potential collaboration
and further research. We aspire to give the foresight field ways to
bind more tightly to allied scholarly conversations and to put the
future uncertainty issue in organizational theory and innovation
management on a more solid footing to serve researchers and
analysts across this spectrum. Aligned with Davies et al. [16],
we see need for and benefit in “learning each other’s language”
to facilitate collaboration between research disciplines.
To do this, we seek to contribute specifically here in this intro-
ductory article by offering our understanding of four emerging
research streams at the heart of the intersection between strategic
foresight, innovation management, and strategic management
and provide a model for their cross-fertilization. This model
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Foresight in Strategy and Innovation Management
Ehls, D., Gordon, A. V., Herstatt, C. and R. Rohrbeck
IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management
Volume: 69, Issue: 2, 483-492
2IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT
TAB L E I
EMERGING RESEARCH STREAMS AT THE INTERSECTION AMONG FORESIGHT,STRATEGY,AND INNOVATION MANAGEMENT
is summarized in the table, Fig. 1, and elaborated over the
course of this article and in relation to the papers that make
up the special issue. In Section II, we lay out the concept of
forward-looking search as our key organizing principle bringing
together apparently disparate conversations. In Section III, we
address the organizational and strategic perspectives that relate
to foresight, particularly in relation to dynamic capabilities
and “great strategies.” In Section IV, we turn to topics in
innovation which dovetail with strategic foresight and orga-
nize these under the topics of new product development and
open foresight.
II. FORWARD-LOOKING SEARCH
We use the theory a nd pra ctic e of “fo rward-l ooki ng sea rch”
to integrate the fields of future-inquiry and future navigation
that range across the strategic foresight, strategy, and innovation
literature. In strategic foresight, search is a ubiquitous activity
and is particularly apparent in horizon (or “environmental”)
scanning, whereby the organization addresses change in its
external environment by way of structured search [17]. This
search is commonly navigated by way of subsearches in key
areas, using the PESTEL (political; economic; social; techno-
logical; environmental; legislative) mnemonic, and is also un-
derstood to address both the transactional environment external
to the organization, including competitor analysis, as well as the
broader contextual environment in which it is located [18].
In organization studies, the concept of search is rooted in the
work of Cyert a nd March [19] who obser ved that firms t end to en-
gage in local search, for example, experimenting with alternative
courses of action in the vicinity of their current actions. However,
such search behavior is delimited by the bounded rationality of
organizational agents, which is tied to past experience and past
data, thus being limited in ability to see and act on distant op-
portunities [20]. Cognitive representations and routines built on
past experience are what prevent more distant search [21], [22];
therefore, Gavetti [8] argues that strategists need to overcome
cognitive bounds to identify distant opportunities and so deter-
mine strategies markedly different from the status quo. Gavetti
and Levinthal [23] contrast backward-looking search, where
IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT 3
action-outcome linkages are explored by experimentation, with
forward-looking search, where cognition about action-outcome
linkages can go beyond experimental wisdom and thus explore
alargersetofalternativeactionsandoutcomes.Suchcognition
is bound by the mental models of the strategist; therefore, the
more cognitive bounds can be broadened, the more alternative
action-outcome linkages can be explored, and the more distant
and potentially more valuable courses of action that a strategist
can choose from.
Eisenhardt and Bingham [24] draw on their research on suc-
cessful ventures to emphasize that establishing “a broad view”
will allow companies to discover new opportunities and that
capturing them can be helped by organizational structures that
operate at the edge of chaos; that is, organizational units that,
via a lack of structure, favor the creation of new teams and new
relationships which in turn aid serendipitous identification of
opportunities. In some cases, this is achieved by forward search
beyond the current industry. For example, in a study of the
financial services firm Merrill Lynch, Gavetti and Menon [1]
argue that its iconic success was enabled by a mental model
that originated from outside the industry. This was the model
of the supermarket, where customers were treated equally and
where all customers had access to competitive prices, which
was far from the status quo in financial services at that time
where the richest customers would be notified about the best
investment opportunities first and also pay, relatively, the lowest
fees. Backward-looking search, based on adaptation of the status
quo by trial and error have, at best, slightly altered the dominant
model in the industry. Forward-looking search that drew on
an external analogy was capable of overcoming the cognitive
bounds that then prevailed in the financial services industry. In
this way, cognitive reframing enabled strategic foresight and,
through it, the iconic success of the bank. This overcoming of
the cognitive bounds that we know from the behavior theory
of the firm can also be expected to be an ability that allows
strategists to find great strategies, which we address in Section
III-B.
In contrast to the assumption of the BTF, that firms are limited
in their ability to adapt, the dynamic capabilities theory builds
on the assumptions that firms can change through the agency of
its management [25]. Dynamic capabilities theory builds on the
resource-based view (RBV), which assumes a firm’s resources
to be the basis for its competitive advantage. Teece et al.[26]
identify three processes of dynamic capabilities, “sensing, seiz-
ing and transforming,” which go beyond individual cognition
though they might build on it. Based on its foundations in horizon
scanning, strategic foresight has been linked in particular to the
“sensing” phase but may also prepare the ground for seizing and
transforming phases [27], [28].
With regard to innovation, it is understood that experience-
based search frequently leads to incremental innovation, while
forward-looking search opens the search space for new, po-
tentially more, distant opportunities which increase chances of
identifying more radical innovations [23]. Accordingly, and in
regard to foresight, a broad scan and search process is likely to
anticipate trends and new knowledge early, which in turn can
either indirectly or directly influence innovation. The indirect
way forward is by discovering new customer needs and value
migrating practices that, after transforming needs into solution
ideas, form the base for new product development. The direct
way would be the identification of new solutions and products
that directly stimulate innovations [29].
Investments in innovation have also been documented to be
a common response to “problemistic search” which can be
triggered by performance below expectation; that is, recognition
of performance below aspiration leads to a process of search
to discover a solution to the problem, resulting in behavioral
change to restore performance [30], [31]. In a similar vein,
it has been shown that top-management attention to potential
opportunities from environmental change can be a powerful
driver of innovation within and beyond the firm boundaries [32].
This also gives rise to the expectation that external knowledge
search can be linked to both forward-looking search and strategic
foresight [33].
III. FORESIGHT,STRATEGY,AND ORGANIZATION STUDIES
Strategic foresight stems from the idea that the elements from
which the future will be constructed, and their interrelationships,
can be studied—which will allow discovery of alternative devel-
opment paths [6], [34], [35]. It, in part, addresses environments
governed by Knightian uncertainty, where past models of suc-
cess can be applied only to a limited extent. Such situations
necessitate decisions that allow to break away from path depen-
dency and past experience [36]. Thus, this goes beyond prior
or analogous thinking and toward forming knowledge resources
and leveraging creativity in connecting elements that will shape
the future, which, today, exist only in their potentiality [35],
[37], understanding also that shaping ability exists only in part
or as circumstantial influence [38]. Strategic foresight is needed
when the level of predeterminism, that is, elements of the envi-
ronment that are “given,” becomes insufficient to make reliable
forecasts [39]. Applying strategic foresight is thus an answer to
the challenge of taking decisions and managing organizations
under conditions of external uncertainty that cannot be reduced
to risk or significantly influenced.
Research that links foresight to strategic and organizational
outcomes dates back to the 1960s [5], [40]. Iden et al.[41]dis-
cuss 59 articles that are positioned at the intersection of strategic
foresight and strategy and among these dynamic capabilities
theory features prominently. More recently, authors have called
for the quest to find the origins of great strategies, i.e., strategies
that are markedly different from the existing strategies in an
industry and that, through superior features, come to dominate
the industry [42]. We see these two research streams “Foresight
as a Dynamic Capability” and “Foresight for Great Strategies”
(with a behavioral theory foundation) as promising and discuss
each in the next section.
A. Foresight as a Dynamic Capability
The scholarly investigation of dynamic capabilities is found
on the RBV which postulates that competitive advantages of
firms are built on strategic resources, for example, financial
strength, superior assets, or human resources. Teece et al.[26]
4IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT
introduced a dynamic view to the theory of the RBV, proposing
adapting to environmental changes as a similar strategic capac-
ity, and coined the term dynamic capability to describe specific
competences that allow firms to successfully address changing
environment. In recent years, a growing community of scholars
have further advocated for strategic foresight to be considered
as a firm-specific competence, one which is particularly useful
in fast-changing and complex environments [43]–[45]. Day and
Schoemaker [46] have shown via two case studies how active
sensing of trends led to seizing of opportunities and the trans-
formation of the resource portfolio that created a competitive
advantage. Schwarz et al. [27] use a cross-sectional study to es-
tablish that strategic foresight residing in organizational routines
and leadership practices are predictors of successful exercising
dynamic capabilities. Fergnani [47] integrates different models
of strategic foresight to develop a model that can be used for
theory testing.
While none of our papers in this special issue invoke dy-
namic capabilities theory specifically, the contribution from
Meyer et al.[48]providesinsightsonresourcesthatfirmsuse
to build future preparedness. The authors investigate a broad
spectrum of variables that could constitute future preparedness
investments and, through a factor analysis, identify three pre-
paredness dimensions: preparedness toward global challenges;
preparedness through organizational resources and capabilities;
and product preparedness. They find that how and by what
means an organization prepares for the future depends on firm
size and industry. While their study is explorative in nature,
they confirm previous findings that large firms tend to have
more comprehensive future preparedness than small firms. Their
study also provides interesting insights into factors that have not
been investigated in previous studies and could be employed in
future research.
B. Foresight and Great Strategies
While dynamic capabilities theory is rooted in the role of
human agency in shaping organizations and their resources to
create competitive advantages in changed environments, BTF
has a contrasting starting point. BTF is rooted in the concept
of bounded rationality of managers—which prevents them from
engaging in forward-looking search and from identifying strate-
gies that are distant or markedly different, from the status quo
[19]. Using an NK simulation model, Gavetti and Levinthal [23]
argue that in order to find more distant strategies, managers need
to adopt different representations. In a case study work, Tripsas
and Gavetti [49] have documented the importance of cognitive
representations to direct search processes, which lead to the
view that agency-driven theories need to be complemented with
evolutionary theories (BTF) to create a model of organizational
foresight. They define strategic foresight as “the ability of a
strategist to identify a superior course of action, especially one
that is markedly different from the status quo, and forsee its
consequences” [1]. In the same article, the authors propose
analogous thinking as the main method to develop strategic fore-
sight possibly importing successful strategies or models from
other industries; but Scoblic [28] does not agree that analogous
reasoning alone is enough and argues that strategic foresight can
help firms also to learn from the future by inspiring experiences
that reduce biases and make managerial judgment more adaptive
and responsive to environmental change. In a similar vein, the
special issue in the Strategy Science journal investigates the
sources of “Great Strategies” more broadly [42]. Such strategies
are those of, for example, Apple, Starbucks, Airbnb, Dropbox,
and Wal-Mart which all have broken away from the industry
status quo and installed new dominant solutions in an industry,
providing superior returns.
Further in that special issue, Brandenburger [50] emphasizes
that developing Great Strategies is always a task build on
creativity, where 4Cs, Contrast, Combination, Constraint, and
Context, work as prompts to find new candidates for Great
Strategies. Burt and Soda [51] draw from social network analysis
to point at the importance of social factors in connecting new
knowledge and practices that are commodity in one cluster to
a new cluster where they are highly valuable. Similarly, but on
the organizational-level, de Figueiredo and Silverman [52] find
interfirm relational contracts can permit firms to collaborate to
create difficult-to-imitate strategies.
In our special issue, Andresen, Schulte, and Koller [53]
propose that as strategic foresight is increasingly seen as a
capability that rests on multiple actors from within and outside
the focal firm, it would be beneficial to draw on additional
theoretical frames, and they propose a combination of practice
and emergence theory. They develop a model that explains how
strategic foresight can be conceptualized as a process that draws
on local emergence, building on, for example, observations of
change from lower level agents and which uses a foresight
space to create global emergence, i.e., the adoption of the new
representations by the organization. It is an interesting starting
point for future research that would investigate how the new
representations, which open new strategy alternatives and new
cognitive frames for anticipating future outcomes, are developed
in practice. This article, thus, contributes a new theoretical frame
to investigate the complex process of building strategic foresight
in large organizations and, in a wider context, how local actors
may contribute to the creation of new representations that could
lead to firms adopting more distant strategies.
In the paper from Dal Borgo and Sasia [54], the authors report
and reflect on the usage of scenario planning to promote an
ethical culture in organizations. They analyze an intervention
process and, with an unusual application field, shed light on
the interesting social process underpinning successful scenario
planning exercises. Many classical scenario planning applica-
tions call on the craftsmanship of scenario planning facilitators
to form scenarios tangible, insightful and impactful enough to
influence decision making. The French “La Prospective” School
favored directly involving decision makers even if it would be
at the expense of weakening foresight method consistency or
sophistication [6]. The paper of Dal Borgo and Sasia makes an
important contribution by drawing our attention to the impor-
tance of combining the intellectual journey (done by trained sce-
nario experts) with the social and emotional engagement which
requires effective integrating decision makers in the scenario
planning process [55].
IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT 5
The paper of Ketonen-Oksi [56] provides an equally detailed
and insightful perspective on practice. It documents an action re-
search perspective on a process to advance the future orientation
and build strategic foresight routines in a small enterprise. The
author documents the six steps of the process, which combines
development with routine execution elements. What might be
judged as unusual in large organization, that is, not to develop
the entire process before using it but instead to combine process
development with process usage, seems to be an important fac-
tor for future-engagement success in small- and medium-sized
enterprises. Another interesting observation, in line with Dal
Borgo and Sasia’s paper is that “the most effective way to create
novel insights about the future is to collect and make sense of
the data through dialogue” and, further, “the key to developing
organizational futures orientation lies in the diversity of thinking
and cannot therefore be done in silos.” This highlights the
importance of involving various actors across the organization
as well as inviting external agents into a process which could
be called collaborative and explorative sense-making, built on a
variety of inter-actor dynamics and participation [57].
IV. FORESIGHT AND INNOVATION
Innovation management is considered a field of its own, one
which has grown in importance and popularity and which attracts
scholars from different disciplines including economics, psy-
chology, sociology, and management [58]. Key ideas and a cen-
tral understanding of the field date at least back to Schumpeter
(1934) who defines innovation as “combining (of) materials
and forces differently” [59, p. 65]. Even today, innovation is
understood as a recombination activity, e.g., “creation of new
knowledge based on existing knowledge” [60], [61].
The field is oriented to both an internal and external per-
spective. With reference to the internal environment, innovation
management deals with topics such as new product development,
dynamics of knowledge creation, innovation performance, and
capability development. Thus, a strong perspective exists in
regard to innovation planning and diffusion and the manage-
ment of the innovation process, including creativity and design
approaches. The external environment considers topics such as
industrial dynamics, emergence of dominant designs, market
structure, opportunity exploration, and technological disconti-
nuities, among others. Accordingly, the external perspective has
astrongfocusonorganizationallearningandchange.Thiscan
also be seen in current “hot topics” in innovation, such as open
innovation (for reviews, see, e.g., [62] and [63]), innovation
ecosystems (for reviews, see, e.g., [64] and [65]), and external
knowledge search for innovation (for reviews, see, e.g., [33] and
[66]).
Looking from a research stream perspective, innovation re-
search focuses increasingly on management, and there exists a
strong link to the field of strategic management, as also evident
in the above topics and the journals in which the research is
published [58]. If strategic management concentrates on ex-
plaining firm heterogeneity and differences in performance,
innovations represent a key factor (sometimes referred to as
outcome or antecedent) in this and one of the top indicators of
future performance. Innovation is understood to offer potential
for creating competitive advantage, customer satisfaction, and
value creation and, thus, contributes to corporate renewal and
business model innovation [67], [68].
The link between innovation studies and foresight is also not
new [69]. Scenarios together with roadmaps have been embraced
by innovation management and corporate foresight has been
used to enhance the innovation capacity of a firm [29], [70]. More
generally, von der Gracht et al.[71]havesuggestedthatcorpo-
rate foresight can help innovation studies by drawing on com-
prehensive insights in future trajectories of the organizational
environment in two ways: first, before idea generation, in lever-
aging environmental insights to inspire ideation; second, after
idea establishment, by assessing commercial and technological
viability to inform the further innovation and commercialization
process. They conclude that foresight helps firms cope with
uncertainty and save resource in the development of nonpromis-
ing ideas. Adegbile et al. [72] provide a review of strategic
foresight and its influence on innovation. They conclude that
foresight does not result directly in innovation but influences it
by shaping and giving form to innovation management tools,
which cumulatively increase innovation performance. Notably,
they identify only 258 academic publications between 1990 and
2014; thus, roughly less than one paper per month on innovation
and foresight [72]. This suggests that much still needs to be done.
A. Foresight in New Product Development
In the next sections, we highlight conversations that are
bridging insights across the foresight and innovation fields.
Both in research and in practice, process models such as the
so-called “stage-gate model” or the design-thinking process are
an important component of innovation management. Cooper and
Edgett [73] developed a process that was intended to counteract
common problems in product development, such as exceeding
deadlines and budgets. Their approach was to divide the product
development process into work phases with clearly defined goals
(called stages). At the end of each “stage” is a review of the
project (“gate”) by an interdisciplinary team with access to
resources, which decides whether to continue or stop the project.
The stage-gate process is a significant input variable for fore-
sight because it provides information about the current direction
of a company’s development activities. Depending on how long a
company’s development cycles are, it also provides information
about the average development duration of projects. This is an
important indicator for answering the question of how quickly
acompanyisabletoreacttomarketchanges.Italsorepresents
the company’s development pipeline; if this is already full, it is
difficult to take on new, future-oriented projects, which can be
an indication of necessary cooperation with partners in the sense
of open innovation.
Design-thinking can be understood as a component of the
front end of stage-gate innovation; a nonlinear, iterative process
that teams use to better understand user needs as a basis for
stimulating innovations to prototype and test. Razzouk and Shute
[74] have suggested the process most useful to address problems
that are ill-defined or unknown. The further connection with
6IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT
foresight is that design thinking offers the opportunity to con-
sider the needs of not only present but also potential future users
by way of foresight processes such as future scenarios. In this
way, customer latent needs and aspirations for future products
and services can be anticipated and incorporated into innovation
concepts. Gordon et al.[13]haveestablishedaframeworkwhich
integrates the stages of design thinking and those of strategic
foresight into one integrated five-step model.
Prior literature has called to leverage foresights methods to
integrate “insights into their front end of innovation and thus
increase the likelihood of discovering interesting opportunities”
[75], while Mühlroth and Grottke [76] address, in our special
issue, the question of which data sources to exploit at which
stage of the technological lifecycle. They also address the stages
in new product development, including the importance of man-
agement tools to standardize internal processes and build up
capabilities, and show the potential of data-driven support capa-
bilities to find promising insights early, even with comparatively
small datasets [76].
B. Open Foresight
During the last decade, the innovation management literature
has gained momentum on the topics of growing interactions
across organizational boundaries and organizations drawing on
external sources of innovation. Accordingly, innovation man-
agement is on the same domain as foresight, also seeking to
leverage the external environment to benefit organization. In
particular, three research domains could be highly valuably
linked to strategic foresight: external knowledge search, open
innovation, and ecosystem conversations.
Literature on external knowledge search addresses problem-
solving activities that involve the creation and recombination
of technological ideas from sources outside the boundaries
of the firm, including customers, suppliers, competitors, and
research and dissemination sites such as universities [33], [77].
Here, organizations search for new knowledge elements beyond
organizational boundaries and mix it with an existing knowledge
base in order to create useful and novel combinations [61], [78].
Indeed, crossing of organizational boundaries is frequently a
knowledge-brokerage process between heterogeneous domains
leading to search activities in more distant and unfamiliar terri-
tory with greater success in problem solving [79] and a higher
likelihood of breakthrough innovations [80], [81]. Discussions
in this stream overlap with the terrain of strategic foresight [33],
[66] in addressing where and how to search [82], the search
object and search combinations [83], [84], as well as search
timing [85].
Literature on ecosystems highlights the interactions between
firms and centers on heterogeneous constellations of organiza-
tions, coevolution of capabilities, and cocreation of value [86].
As defined by Kappor [87], an ecosystem “encompasses a set of
actors that contribute to the focal offer’s user value proposition.”
While the ecosystem literature has interacted with the search
perspective only recently, it has a long tradition at the intersec-
tion of innovation and strategy [88], [89]. Core questions in this
stream address the simultaneous presence of complementarities
and interdependencies between actors of the business system
[90], [91]. Thus, relevant insights of ecosystem conversations for
foresight have to do with technology substitution, investment,
and coevolution or how firms gain superior performance by
orchestrating their ecosystem [92], [93].
Literature on open innovation highlights purposeful use of
knowledge from the external environment for value capture,
appropriation, and innovation performance [94]. Since its orig-
inal conception in 2003, the definition of open innovation has
been broadened to include distributed innovation across organi-
zational boundaries, and, today, several closely aligned research
streams exist, such as Open Innovation in Science [95], or Open
Collaborative Innovation including Open Source Innovation
[96] and Community Innovation [97]. The field has many cross-
linkages to external knowledge search and ecosystem research
[33], [98]–[100]. Accordingly, the field offers several benefi-
cial insights that interact with strategic foresight, for example,
how to leverage external sources and networks for innovation,
and identify promising inbound and outbound knowledge flows
[101]–[103].
With reference to the fields of external knowledge search,
ecosystem research, and open innovation, two overarching
joint themes emerge. First, external interactions with dis-
tributed stakeholder beyond organizations’ own boundaries have
strongly increased. Stakeholders now include customers as well
as other actors in organization’s business environment or even
other industries. In many cases, relationships have moved from
contractual to relational, to a level where previously collabora-
tion was unusual, for example, in anonymous communities. This
has led to another key theme that organizational boundaries have
become more permeable. Knowledge flows across a system of
bounded and unbounded contributors and development activities
are even commonly open to the public.
The strategic foresight literature has already started to take
advantage of this, and we see a rise in publications to do with
“open foresight.” For the term “open foresight,” Google Scholar
returns 46 publications before 2010; 134 from 2011 to 2015; and
228 from 2016 to 2020, although the term is used differently
across these sources, and a clear and unified definition of the
term open foresight has not yet emerged in the literature [104].
Further, several authors refer to (open) collaborative foresight
under the umbrella of open foresight, meaning a joint interorga-
nizational form of foresight and knowledge exchange between
several companies [105]–[109]. Going beyond the collaboration
of firms, further authors, for example, Rau et al.[110],refer
to the integration of all kinds of stakeholders, even unknown
individuals, as open foresight. Similarly, Bootz et al.[111],
after reviewing 45 foresight projects, conclude that firms in-
creasingly interact with and make use of all kinds of external
sources, including customers, suppliers, users, and competitors.
Some authors differentiate further between passive integration,
meaning an unobtrusive interaction, for example “netnography”
of communities [112] and active integration, for example, the
discussion between community members, in the foresight pro-
cess [113].
Taken together, open foresight has strong ties to the recom-
bination of ideas, trends, and inspirations from a wide range
IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT 7
of external sources. It parallels literature on ecosystems with
afocusonvaluenetworkinteractionsandresonateswithopen
innovation’s focus on purposeful knowledge steering from out-
side sources. Accordingly, we understand open foresight as the
systematic use of distributed information sources in order to
anticipate the future corporate business environment and support
an organization’s strategic decision making [104]. In contrast to
traditional corporate foresight, open foresight highlights the idea
of a systematic stronger collaboration (active or passive) with
external sources (firms and other, known and unknown allies).
In reference to this, in this special issue “Collaborative Strate-
gic Foresight and New Product Development in Chinese Phar-
maceutical Firms” [114] takes an open collaborative foresight
perspective, particularly studying how firms orchestrate their
partner ecosystems to gain innovation insights and transfer these
into action. The paper also takes a microfoundations perspective,
suggesting how open collaborative foresight works in practice.
Further, it addresses a theoretical question in how a firm’s
idiosyncrasies affect open collaborative foresight, raising the
aspect of ownership structure and its effects on new product
development.
The paper “Social Media Analytics as an Enabler for External
Search and Open Foresight” in our special issue also relates
to open foresight in its focus on passive integration of external
sources by way of a longitudinal dataset with more than 100 000
comments regarding Tesla from four social media sites [115].
They show increasing external user scrutiny of Tesla’s autopilot
long before this became a public issue and also the differences
in this across social media platforms. Their findings also address
the call to study cognitive constraints and information overload,
currently lacking in open foresight discussions.
V. CONCLUSION
In conceptualizing an IEEE-TEMS special issue on Foresight
in Strategy and Innovation Management, and in this introduc-
tory article, we have sought to build bridges between strategic
foresight and parallel areas of study in strategy, organizational
behavior, and innovation management at a time when these var-
ious fields are increasingly already using each other’s concepts
and terms. Organizational theory has a longstanding orientation
to exploring the relationship between organizations and their
futures; the dynamic capabilities perspective sees a critical ca-
pability in renewing and aligning organizational resources to
external changes; innovation management and entrepreneurship
literature has embraced purposeful knowledge steering from
the external environment, and so on; all commensurate with
strategic foresight in its aim to identify superior courses of action
in situations of future uncertainty and change. In this spirit,
as discipline boundaries between what were previously fairly
isolated knowledge pools are falling, we aim to catalyze the
interface and potential integration of these conversations.
In order to contribute to this process, we have sought to give
shape to the emerging overlaps and interactions by determin-
ing areas of common ground. Specifically, we have proposed
“forward-looking search” as a meeting point of these various
intellectual endeavors and also described four pillars of research
activity that connect to it, these being Foresight as a Dynamic
Capability, Foresight for Great Strategies, Foresight in New
Product Development, and Open Foresight as described in the
sections above, and in our diagram, Fig. 1. All of these are where
related fields in strategy, foresight, and innovation share space.
In this, we hope to bolster the theoretical perspectives of
strategic foresight and also infuse cognate fields in strategy
and innovation with its concepts and methodologies. We also
aspire to induce and steer further work across these fields, and,
in this, here, we also refer to various recent foresight field
bibliographical studies that underscore our objective to build
bridges across streams for a more coherent body of knowledge.
Münch and Gracht [116] comment that the futures and foresight
field is a meta-discipline that draws on a broad base of literature
and knowledge from all the other disciplines, while Iden et al
[41] observe the plurality of strategic foresight’s origins, and
that strategic decision-making itself draws its approach from
disciplines with different perspectives, frameworks, models, and
paradigms. Fergnani [117] offers a bibliometric visualization of
futures studies showing its relative isolation from allied fields,
and in a bibliographical survey of 50 years of corporate and
organization foresight, Gordon et al. [5] outline ways to redress
this isolation, connecting the foresight field to open innova-
tion, R&D innovation, strategic management, and organizational
transformation discussions. The article presented here builds on
that latter work by way of its focus on forward-looking search
as common terrain on which researchers may increasingly build
reciprocal relations between foresight and its cognate disciplines
and bring the benefits of this to management decision makers.
DANIEL EHLS
Helmut-Schmidt-University Hamburg
Holstenhofweg 85
22043 Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH)
Am Schwarzenberg-Campus 4
21073 Hamburg, Germany
ADAM GORDON
Aarhus University
School of Business and Social Sciences
Fuglesangs Allé 4
8210 Aarhus, Denmark
CORNELIUS HERSTATT
Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH)
Am Schwarzenberg-Campus 4
21073 Hamburg, Germany
RENÉ ROHRBECK
EDHEC Business School
24 Avenue Gustave Delory
59100 Roubaix, France
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