Quality in Foresight

As enterprises are forced to transform to market, policy, or technology shifts, anticipating new opportunities and setting future direction becomes the core skill leaders bring to their position.

Competitive advantage goes to those who make early sense of forces changing their sector, and best adapt to profit from them. Quality of foresight is the essence of decision success. Tomorrow’s industry is where today’s decisions play out.

Nobody can predict the future responsibly. But, powerful, proven tools exist to help leaders see to the operating horizon, and so craft solutions to develop opportunities and minimize risk.

I’m Adam Gordon, author, facilitator, and educator in industry foresight. I’m singularly dedicated to quality as I illuminate plausible outcomes across key sectors using the foresight toolbox I’ve learned and developed over 15 years.

I bring my knowledge and processes to bear at decision-time, illuminating change and reducing uncertainty, often 1-1 with leaders or in executive caucus. I also facilitate broader workshops (see tabs) and make public presentations.

In addition to here, I’m on my Forbes outpost: Management By Looking Ahead.
My industry, market, technology, and policy scanning is streamed via @futuresavvy and facebook subscribe. Allow me to enhance your control of the future.

Savvy Investing

savvy investing 168x300 Savvy InvestingInvesting requires ‘putting a price on the future’ and getting it right. 

There are excellent “technical” and “fundamental” financial tools for doing this. But these work only in stable industry environments, or where situations transform as predicted.

Stable and predictable situations have become rare. So, what you often hear from money managers is: ”…er…um… externalities occurred” as their most sober, diligently calculated, exhaustively modeled projections are swept away along with their clients’ money.

There are two types of externality:

1. Economic or political macro-uncertainty. Externalities caused by unstable national or international situations, and consumer or investor reaction, or regulator policy responses.

2. Industry transformation. Externalities caused by rapid change inside or between industries, including “disruptive technologies,” new product or service solutions, and unprecedented business models.

If you invest without due diligence to the implications of plausible externalities, you are taking a wild gamble on a stable world.

Nobody can predict the future, but the quality foresight tools on offer here expose and investigate externalities (as far as the investment horizon.) They lead to investments that are genuinely robust to uncertainty and ready to profit from reversals.

Customer of the Future

scenario seminar 2 Customer of the Future

Workshops, Deep Dives, Idea Factories, Corporate Retreats:

I design & run group sessions to help decision-makers think through the future of their customer (user, stakeholder,) typically looking ahead 2-10 years. In-session, I’m  facilitator-catalyst, provoking a group to unlock its own knowledge, providing techniques to freshen thinking and hard-boiled realism to rein in future-fantasy.

Broadly interpreted, the pathway is:

1. Scanning: identifying external forces and weak signals; considering how they influence the status quo.

2. DEFT Change Analysis: isolating ongoing trends and expected play-out; surfacing underlying Drivers, Enablers, Friction, and Turner-Blockers, a proprietary method for better foresight developed in Future Savvy and related articles.

3. Surprise & Reversal: Following a schema and group work model to stalk surprises, disruptions, wildcards, gamechangers, or black swans that will kibosh routine projections.

4. Sensemaking, Consolidation of Emerging Picture: turning discussions into usable summaries of future users’ positions & preferences, in clarified context of changed industry, technology, and regulatory conditions.

5. (Sometimes) Scenario Building: Providing structures whereby decision-makers mentally prepare for alternative or less-expected conditions; developing understanding of the real range of industry contexts to be ready for.

6. (Sometimes) In-depth Studies. Where required, workshops merge with longer-term engagements and data-driven analysis in a classic industry foresight report.

The Innovation Dashboard

When a quality view of emerging customer (or stakeholder) needs, requirements, and preferences has been achieved, what are the levers you pull? How do you go from a 30,000ft view of the future to something that practically exists?

Below (diag. thanks to Peter Stoyko) is a part of the dashboard that is applied in-workshop, along with a selection of classic innovation-design tools, strategy canvases, and business model consoles, to foster creative adaptation to future opportunities & threats.

Innovation dash The Innovation Dashboard


I’m also a part of the Stanford Foresight & Innovation team, and where required am able to apply this foresight-to-innovation framework:

Stanford foresight The Innovation Dashboard


Innovation-dashboard processes, when followed all the way, ends with a narrowing of proposed solutions-innovations, prototyping thereof where applicable, and/or a “business case” analysis.

Risk Game-Changer Workshop

scenario seminar 1 Risk Game Changer Workshop

This is a specific workshop designed to address the most difficult management problem most established organizations face: that is, “serious surprise” in their systems and markets.

Serious surprise sometimes also goes by the names “game-changer,” “wild card,” “black swan,” and so on. These are low-probability, high-impact events. People think of wild-cards as in tsunamis or 9-11; but they can be much smaller and more subtle, and still ruin vast enterprises. Just ask Blockbuster.

Game-changers in industry are reversals of one or more foundations holding up the industry operating environment. They are threats. All threats are opportunities for those who “get-it” in time.

The workshop session begins with risk management, but goes much further:

Part 1. Investigation and refresh of the standard risk profile of the organization. Often this works off a standard risk-management document. Sometimes it needs elaboration.

Part 2. The brazen use of childish, insane, counterintuitive, and other left-field think-tools … to force the mask to slip and allow a glimpse of potential industry surprises and reversals.

Presentations & Exec Ed.

I’ve been fortunate to present at a wide array of business, government, association, non-profit, and media venues, at events in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. Alongside is a 2-minute video sample:

In addition to corporate and book-tour events, I’ve been featured in various public keynote and conference engagements. A sample list:

  • New York Public Library lectures, NYC
  • Innoprom 2011, Ekaterinburg
  • Luxury Marketing Council, Philadelphia
  • SA2030 keynote, Cape Town
  • Government Foresight & Future Governances, Seoul
  • Future Matters, Cardiff
  • Foresight Analysts Network, DIUS, Government Office of Science, London
  • London Futures Symposium, London
  • Generant Futur Conferences, COPCA, Barcelona
  • Arkhangelsk Region Planning, Skolkovo Business School, Moscow
  • World Future Society Programs; Minneapolis, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver
  • Scenarios-to-Innovation Seminar, Cedep, Fontainebleau, France
  • European Futures Conference, Switzerland
  • Global Marketing Management, Wharton School, Philadelphia
  • Foresight Series, Institute for International Research, South Africa
  • New Media Futures Conference, London
  • National Voluntary Health Agencies, NVHA, Washington DC
  • Reinventing Agriculture, Washington DC
  • Development Futures, Pretoria, South Africa
  • eRetailing 21C, Paris
  • Digital Crossroads, Brussels
  • Conference of Progressive Theologians, New York
  • SDA Association, Boca Raton
  • International Quality & Productivity Center conference, New Jersey
  • Communities of Tomorrow Summit, Washington DC

Examples of  topics include: New Solutions in Media; The Future of Business Education; Foresight for Wealth Managers; Thinking Scenarios for Health Care; Towards a Futures P.O.V. on BRICSA Countries and Emerging Markets; Life after Fossil Fuels; A Guide to Innovation (Built Environment); Managing Strategic Surprise (Travel & Leisure Industry); and so on. I also present widely on Industry Foresight Methods and Quality-in-Foresight issues.


Point-of-Decision Briefings

Presentations can also be structured as on-day, point-of-decision input for company round-tables; bringing foresight perspectives directly to leadership discussions, adding forward perspectives to conventional industry wisdom before key decisions or investments are made.


Executive Education

Beyond one-off presentations, institutions build internal capacity to integrate foresight leadership and innovation into their knowledge base and culture. I provide leadership training in industry foresight and applied innovation. Sample seminars:

* Foresight & Innovation Leadership. Connecting the tools and insights of industry foresight to leadership development programs or innovation management processes

* Beyond Risk Management. Introduction to the qualitative foresight toolkit; using it  in leadership decision-making

* Planning Models & Methods. Audit of current strategic planning, exposing vulnerabilities, adding foresight principles

* Foresight for Emerging Markets. Learning to applying foresight tools to specific high-uncertainty decision situations

* Scenario Building & Scenario-based management. Creating in-company scenario-building capacity; taking the results to decision-making.

These are tailored to specific direct-impact needs and to integrate with on-going projects. They may be adapted to existing management development and training, and may go beyond the classroom to include on-the-job executive coaching.

MBA Elective in Industry Foresight. I teach full-credit courses in Industry Foresight, or Foresight & Innovation, or Scenario Planning, in MBA and other graduate studies programs around the world. Download a sample course outline: IFBFS-outline-2005

Future Savvy: Book

gordon future savvy Future Savvy: BookForesight is important. It is a key condition of success in most human activities. Dismayed, to say the least, in the standard of much of what passes for future thinking, I’ve wrote “Future Savvy” to help readers-consumers work out whether a prediction is likely to be valuable or not (before the end of the forecast period!)

Book Synopsis: Nobody can predict the future, but some forecasts are clearly better than others. Foresight is important—all decisions we make today will play out in the future. So wouldn’t it be useful to be able to tell a good forecast from a bad one? And even more so in these uncertain times.

“Future Savvy,” shows readers how to discern quality in future thinking, with examples and case studies of interest to business and policy/government decision-makers. It views expert foresight as a crucial resource, but it puts sharp tools in the hands of forecast users.

Thinking clearly about the future—about complex change—is hard to do. There’s no shortage of predictions available to business, policy or government institutions wanting to know more about the future. In fact it’s ridiculously easy to get predictions on any topic: we’re bombarded with projections every day—in newspapers and business magazines, and from government agencies, think tanks, consultant reports, stock market guides, and so on.

What’s hard is knowing when they are right.

Which of the endless sea of sources is valid? How do you know which predictions to take seriously, which to be wary of, and which to throw out entirely? Which ones do you let guide your decisions?

Future Savvy says ordinary managers and decision-makers can judge that. The book holds up a mirror to the forecasting field—often over-quantified, or bound up in technobabble or wishful thinking—and offers a one-stop everyday reference that helps foresight consumers critically evaluate what analysts, consultants, brokers, and other gurus and talking heads are saying about tomorrow.

In sifting through predictive material, among the many thing readers of Future Savvy will be able to do are:

  • Distinguish between future-aligning and future-influencing forecasts; those that seek to anticipate situations and those that seek to change them
  • Know when data-driven forecasting is an appropriate approach and when it is not
  • Understand how frictional forces in the economy and society delay and shape technology-driven change.
  • See through a forecast to the motivations behind it and make allowances for the effect of perceptual biases
  • Understand the role of systemic forces, and judge when a scenario-based approach is valid

The book synthesizes economic and social perspective, information-assessment skills, and foresight tools into a single template that allows managers to apply rigorous and systematic “forecast filtering” to the predictions they face.

Future Savvy is a bright, approachable, non-technical read, with descriptive examples and case studies. It is designed to be the business or policy manager’s handy reference in their ongoing daily judgment about what the media, consultants, investment brokers, industry analysts and other self-appointed gurus and talking heads are saying about the future.

The better leaders’ view of the future, the better their decisions—and successes—will be. Future Savvy empowers them to use forecasts wisely and so improve their judgment in anticipating opportunities, avoiding threats, and managing uncertainty.

Chapter Summary:

Introduction: (Download here Future_Savvy_intro[Excerpted from "Future Savvy" by Adam Gordon. Copyright (c) 2009. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.]

Chapter 1: Recognizing Forecast Intentions

Deals with considerations of how forecasts come about, who makes them, and with what intention. Those who research and produce forecasts, those who invest in understanding trends and drivers of change, and those (including the media) who bring the forecasts and their implications to our attention, inevitably have reasons for doing so – to benefit from the knowledge by seizing opportunities or avoiding threats or by affecting outcomes in the world. Understanding a forecast’s “return on investment” gives us an important vantage point in assessing the merits of a forecast.

Chapter 2: The Quality of Information

Shows how a forecast communicates information between forecaster and reader subject to the same standards of accuracy, truth-telling, and bias-control by which one would judge any communication. Forecasts can be very different in methods and goals, but all forecasts lay claim to factual truth, particularly truth in the data, and the argument deals with the various ways in which data can be less solid than it looks, even with the best intentions.

Chapter 3: Interpretation and Bias

Considers how data – whether good or bad in itself – can be interpreted or misinterpreted in forecasting, that is, the “political” aspects of forecasting. Just as there is no value-free look at history, so too there is no value-free look to the future and asking the right questions allows us be ready to mentally rebalance forecasts that are presented.

Chapter 4: Paradigms and Perception

Investigates how predictive statements are exposed to a broader form of interpretive bias that has to do with the forecaster’s mental model or “paradigm,” and the “zeitgeist” (spirit of the times) when the forecast is made. This chapter investigates situations where forecast failure is caused by failure to escape society’s current mental models – which often do not hold through the forecast period.

Chapter 5: The Utility Principle

Considers economic and market forces, and the role of consumers, in promoting or resisting the future. Without reigning in creative thinking, some simple economic filters inevitably apply direction or timing realism to futurist flights of fancy.

Chapter 6: Drivers, Blockers, and Trends

Consider drivers and blockers of change, and how viewing these dynamics improves forecast assessment. It identifies the roles of Drivers, Enablers, Friction, and Blockers acting on events to cause change or resist it, and problems in dumbly projecting current trends.

Chapter 7: The Limits of Quantitative Analysis

Discusses the role of statistical analysis and quantitative modeling in predicting the future – where this is possible and useful and where it is not, and why not.

Chapter 8: The Systems Perspective

Investigates “system effects,” which occur whenever different elements or variables that may appear isolated are in fact linked together, such that changes in one element cause changes in others. Anticipating future behavior of any variable hinges on identifying the broader systemic elements influencing it and failing to do this is a big part of what causes forecasts to fail.

Chapter 9: Living with Alternative Futures

Investigates non-predictive ways of approaching change – where the tone is more about managing uncertainty than predicting the future. It acknowledges unfathomable complexity of most future questions and provides perspectives that raise chances of success in an inherently unpredictable future.

Chapter 10: Forecast Filtering in Action

Illustrates the processes of the book by applying them in case studies to real-world sample forecasts that decision makers in business and policy areas might find themselves interacting with. This demonstrates how real everyday predictive material may be probed and critically evaluated, following the principles developed in previous chapters.

Chapter 11: A Forecast Filtering Checklist

This is a cross-cutting manager’s foresight filtering checklist which summarizes the principles of the book in one convenient, thematic list. Keep this with you when reading any forecast material!


Review: Develop a Forecasting Mind, By Dr. Jay Gary (Virginia Beach, USA)

“You will not find a better book than Future Savvy on how to cultivate a forecasting mindset. I teach futuring workshops for mid-career professionals. I have just adopted Future Savvy as a textbook for my graduate students. Why? Future Savvy is accessible. It contains a wealth of managerial wisdom about bias traps, perceptive frameworks, change drivers and change blockers. You may know your industry, but Future Savvy will help you think beyond the limits of trend extrapolation to analyze your changing macro context. It will teach you how to define a cone of uncertainty for your division or product line, and weigh the likelihood of alternatives disrupting your business. Finally, you will take away questions to ask any business or government forecast, to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Yes, you could find a more technical book on forecasting methods. You could get a more detailed book on short-term operational business forecasting. You could even buy a more entertaining book on erroneous predictions. But you will not find a better book to under gird both sense making and decision making in an organizational context. Unlike a lot of futurist fluff out there, this book delivers on its promise.”


Media Release (US):

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Media Release (UK):

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Adam Gordon

adam gordon tags Adam Gordon

I’m a graduate of the Houston M.S. Strategic Foresight in Commerce program, and have my MBA from INSEAD. Over 15 years I have been analyst, facilitator, and management educator (MBA and Executive Education) in the field of industry & policy foresight, widely spanning many industries & sectors as quality in management foresight demands. After 18 years abroad, I am now once again based in South Africa, as Director of Executive Education at the University of Witwatersrand Business School. From this vantage point, I’m called on to apply my foresight methods base to determining new opportunities in emerging markets, with current specialization in advancing senior management education and allied strategic in-company capacity building.

In addition to Future Savvy (Amacom, 2009) and Management By Looking Ahead at Forbes.com, I am published in Foresight (IIF) and over a dozen other academic and commercial publications, and am an Editorial Board Member of World Future Review: Journal of Strategic Foresight. I’m also a member of the Stanford Foresight & Innovation team. 

Email: adam.gordon[at]futuresavvy.net

Tel: +27.83.745.4580 | +44.790.605.4848

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