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Anticipate the future for a clearer path ahead2017/07/13

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Strategic foresight is important for understanding how the future may unfold. Start by asking: “What future should we plan for?”

By Dr. Santhi Kanoktanaporn

While planning is important for all your vacations, visiting Japan for cherry blossom viewing requires a bit of additional information gathering and strategic planning, including keeping a close eye on the “bloom-front” forecasts by different agencies.

Planning your trip without considering the likely full-bloom dates or tracking the cherry blossom front may find you in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even worse, you may completely miss the season because it is so short and moves northward quickly with warmer weather.

Translate this into the changing dynamics of the new-age economy where organizations and individuals are unveiling newer technologies, approaches, processes, and business models while disrupting markets by the day, and it is easy to understand just how complex planning for the future can be. Add to this the unpredictable social, political, and economic environments around the world, and we know how important it is to anticipate and identify opportunities and threats that may impact APO member countries in the mid- to long terms.

Doorway before cosmic skyThe annual APO Strategic Planning Workshop for 2017 was designed to help the Secretariat define its Strategy Development Approach. The approach will offer foresight to member economies so that they can use uncertainties to future-proof their productivity growth through inclusive, innovative, smart initiatives aligned with long-term national development goals.

A successful strategist must uncover and exploit opportunities that establish and protect a sustainable competitive advantage. This can be done only by anticipating the future through a modern, structured scenario planning approach. This is the third phase of the APO Strategy Development Approach that will help the Secretariat and NPOs anticipate the competitive positions of the future. It will also help define “what future we should plan for.”

The “anticipate” phase also forms the basis for the next two phases, “explore” and “formulate,” so that the APO and NPOs can answer the questions “what are the potential pathways to winning?” and “what is our integrated strategy?” The responses to these will culminate in the sixth “execute” phase, when we create an action plan, implement it, and achieve the desired results as visualized using our foresight capability.

As part of the Strategy Development Approach initiative, the APO Secretariat has set up a future team that will work toward providing a viewpoint on how the future may unfold. We also launched the APO Strategic Future Platform earlier this year during the 59th GBM in Tehran. This will build the strategic foresight capacity of the Secretariat and member countries, supporting strategic intelligence scanning of our contextual environment (social, technological, economic, environmental, and political, or “STEEP”).

An important aspect of the anticipate phase is the analysis and interpretation of STEEP factors and events occurring globally. Analysis of those developments can help identify emerging trends. Detailed cause-and-effect interpretation of those trends is important to determine the “driving forces” that are fundamental sources of future changes with ability to shape the course of events and change the rules of the game. To identify the right driving forces, one needs to dive deep and take an outside-in approach because the underlying causes can differ significantly from the visibly apparent triggers.

The next step in the anticipate phase is to pinpoint the critical uncertainties and prospects for developing a future scenario. As Peter Schwartz, author of The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, said, scenarios are a tool for helping us take the long view in a world of great uncertainty. They are stories about how the world might evolve tomorrow, which can help us recognize and adapt to changing aspects of our current environment.

In simple terms, scenario planning is about anticipating different contextual factors that may affect an organization and combining then to develop plausible scenarios or stories about the how the contextual environment may change over a certain period. Caution must be taken at this stage not to ignore less well-known factors, since it is easier to visualize the impact of the known.

This is important for strategic reasons. While most organizations may be able to foresee the unknown based on known factors, the name of the game is to set trends by focusing on the contextual environment beyond the influence of organizations. Research shows that only 13.5% of organizations are early adopters and only 2.5% can disrupt the market to set trends.

Here lies the real threat for those who fail to recognize trends and change accordingly. It is also where strategic foresight can help. Practitioners and planners must rely on strategic foresight to develop maps of possible future and then use that future intelligence to plot the best courses of action. Only those who have foresight capability can exploit the future to reap maximum benefits.

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