The Castle and the Village Square

And The Three Laws of Open Foresight

David Jonker (davidpjonker) June 20, 2023

Foresight is often conducted behind an organization’s castle walls. But that’s the wrong approach. To truly succeed in the coming decades, organizations need foresight to be conducted openly, collaboratively in the village square.

We can’t fault leaders for this wrongheaded thinking. After all, bookshelves are full of titles claiming strategy is about ‘playing to win’. Where we need to ‘differentiate or die’. And ‘eat their lunch’. Why? Because ‘only winners take all’. And all these strategy experts are simply feeding our primal brains, wired with brute survival skills and to focus on the different and unexpected, while ignoring everything else.

The Yin Yang of Strategy

The problem is this primeval response causes us to focus on the Yin of business (covert, hidden) while ignoring the Yang (open, integrative). We easily forget that in business you cannot compete if you do not cooperate. And you cannot differentiate if you do not assimilate. These opposite yet complementary elements are fundamental to every organization’s success.

Consider the sport of football. Every game is played the same. And every team has cooperated on and assimilated the same rules, player positions, equipment, uniforms, playing fields, season schedules, stadiums, revenue models, hot dogs, beer, and merchandise.

And while every superfan focuses on what makes their team different, in reality teams assimilate and cooperate far more than they differentiate and compete. Our first law of Open Foresight explains why:

It takes more than one to compete and differentiate;
it takes at least two, who cooperate and assimilate.

Yin Yang in harmony.

The same goes for business. And governments. And just about any other institution. Every organization that wants to succeed must first assimilate and cooperate. And the more their peers, competitors, and stakeholders play the same game the more they can succeed.

That’s why organizations assimilate and cooperate on the same market model, financial instruments, governance structure, capital structure, industries, lines of business, job roles and skills, accounting methods, marketing methods, manufacturing methods, supply chains, transportation systems, energy systems, and the list goes on and on.

And while those who eventually “win” do so because they differentiate or outcompete in some small but important way, in reality the best and worst organizations are more similar than different. And every multinational organization measures its cooperative partnerships in the hundreds and thousands, while its competitors can often be counted on two hands.

Clearly then, winners assimilate and cooperate far more than they differentiate and compete. And this truth has never been more important for the future prosperity of our planet. Our world faces many challenges over the coming decades - climate change, aging and declining populations, and the uncertainty of AI to name a few. Each of these put into question economic and governance models based on nonstop growth. Achieving prosperous and sustainable futures will take new worldviews and mental models.

But here’s the rub. It will take most organizations to assimilate the same worldviews and mental models. Creating a prosperous and sustainable tomorrow takes a village; a global village, to be precise. No one organization or nation can accomplish this on their own.

In other words, we need to play a new “game”. And before organizations focus on the Yin of differentiation and competition, we need to come together on the Yang of cooperation and assimilation. We need to create shared images of the game, its rules, player positions, uniforms, stadiums, revenue models, and so on and so forth.

Foresight Builds Strategy Yang

Enter foresight. Not traditional foresight done in private, behind castle walls. Rather, a new form of foresight, open and collaborative, conducted in the village square. One that creates images of prosperous and sustainable futures assimilated by every organization; cooperatively imagined and realized.

Open, collaborative foresight can work because at the highest levels every organization faces the same issues and drivers of change. Sure, there are differences by nation, region, community, and industry. But again, there is more common ground than uncommon. More to assimilate than differentiate.

And if organizations can come to see and understand the same possible and plausible futures, and to agree to the same preferred futures, then our global village will have taken a giant leap towards shared images of a prosperous and sustainable tomorrow. Shared images that we can assimilate and cooperate to realize.

Creating shared images begins with many people sharing their own images of a better tomorrow. It’s the same concept behind open source software: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” (Raymond 1999) This leads to better software. In a similar way, many eyeballs lead to better futures. This gives us the second law of Open Foresight:

Given enough perspectives, all futures are clear.

Assimilating many perspectives about better futures, in an inclusive and collaborative way, makes them, well, better. It also means more people will in turn assimilate those better futures and cooperate to realize them.

It’s important to emphasize that we are not assimilating one preferred future, but a multitude of preferred futures by embracing a mosaic of perspectives. Our preferred global village of tomorrow will have many neighborhoods, if you like, each reflecting this mosaic of perspectives, collaboratively woven together.

To successfully envision tomorrow’s global village, with its many neighborhoods, foresight must peer into futures at different magnification levels, much like a telescope. To survey tomorrow’s global village takes continuous turning of foresight’s magnification dial to ‘crowd’, ‘consortium’ and ‘corporate’ levels.

With our naked eye, we can see the drivers shaping tomorrow’s global village, poking above the fog like towering skyscrapers on a distant horizon. Aging and declining populations; AI and automation; climate change; floods and drought. Yet the fog blinds us from understanding how to successfully navigate them.

By turning the magnification dial to Crowd-level Foresight, we can begin to develop an understanding of each driver’s underlying structures and interconnections – much like a city skyline. And much like a city we can begin to see the shape of different neighborhoods and how they relate. The opportunity with Crowd-level Foresight is to understand the drivers of tomorrow more deeply by examining them from a diversity of perspectives.

With the city skyline clear and neighborhoods discernable, we can zoom into a narrower field of view, focusing on a specific neighborhood. A particular region, community, or industry for example. It’s here that Consortium-level Foresight can map out an individual neighborhood by bringing together organizations sharing common interests.

With a detailed map of tomorrow’s global village and its many neighborhoods, every organization can effectively conduct Corporate-level foresight to map their own path, and differentiated contribution, to better tomorrows.

All three levels of foresight are required. Without crowd-level foresight we will not understand how to collectively work to save our shared planet. Without consortium-level foresight we will not collaboratively imagine the systems that can realize our shared futures. And without corporate-level foresight organizations will not easily see their place in the world. This leads to our third law of Open Foresight:

Futures are best realized when organizations collaboratively
assimilate with, and differentiate from, the crowd and the consortium.

Now is the time to create shared images of tomorrow’s global village, prosperous and sustainable. Now is the time to step outside the castle; to participate in the village square.

Last modified: 2023/06/16 13:40 by davidpjonker