Let's work together

From hindsight to foresight

February 12, 2018

Blog

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better,” said the poet William Blake. Although this wisdom may sound old, its real application in business is surprisingly new. But we are not talking about corporate foresight as such.

Based on the hundreds of interactive situations with our customers and stakeholders that we have experienced, Kalle Tuomi has crystallised and redefined what we mean by ‘foresight’ as something much more than bracing ourselves for change. We feel this is an important realisation and we want to talk about it. For us, foresight means keeping our gaze on the future and the next big thing, without wasting the wisdom already accumulated.

Hindsight

Hindsight is an integral part of the Finnish national psyche. Nothing quite gives us the same buzz as mulling over the mistakes that Nokia made, analysing the rise and fall of the Talvivaara mining project or sitting back and waiting for the schedule for the Helsinki–Tallinn tunnel project, promoted by Peter Vesterbacka of Angry Birds fame, to prove far too ambitious. The list goes on.

The point of this particular spectator sport is to hope for and expect the worst and, when that happens, enjoy the gratification that only someone else’s misfortune can bring. The problem is, the only takeaways from this are cynicism and aversion to risk.

Genuinely new ways of working

The business world has woken up and smelled Agility. We are open to change and quick to adjust. Joint development, Big Room planning and facilitated workshops are at the centre of many projects. The best solutions are proactively sought through real dialogue with the customer. The noble aim is to bring talent together to collaborate. All well and good.

However, even with the best of intentions, if we don’t listen to our experts and the voice of experience and make use of their knowledge and skills from the word go, we won’t be able to increase productivity or add value.  Formal qualifications, specialised training and previous experience are often taken as guarantees for quality, but this may also lead to repeating the tried and tested.We need to be ready to be different and to engage with the new understanding of foresight.

The source of wisdom

With foresight, we are referring to the gathering of different types of competences and experiences and forming an insight at the early stages of a collaborative process. The level of knowledge of the project participants on the topic at hand is calibrated by listening first to those who know best, who have the widest experience and, if necessary, bring in outside specialists.

Only after this can the collaborative process begin and produce the best possible fruits of facilitation. This way, no time is wasted in reinventing the wheel in the name of solidarity and democracy, as what has previously been learnt can be deployed to leverage better results more quickly.

The downside of the modern self-directed and egalitarian workplace is that it may sometimes lack the capacity and the will to make use of the tacit knowledge accumulated over the years, and that all trust is put on the process and everything is done together, from scratch. Here, the point of foresight is to constructively examine the old foundations before building on them, not to abandon them altogether only to have to learn the basics when we are already way into the facilitating stage.

Fail fast

Collaboration and breaking away from the convention is not always easy. It should also be more than just a superficial or mechanical exercise. Genuine multidisciplinarity requires openness and respect for knowledge. The fail fast principle is both liberating and character building. Early mistakes are foresight; mistakes made at a later stage are nothing by hindsight.

In the best outcome, foresight can be seen as an element of what philosopher Esa Saarinen has coined as systems intelligence. Systems intelligence is a fairly new concept, and as yet, unfortunately, in all its flourish, falls far behind hindsight as a method of criticism. But the reason that foresight will always beat hindsight in the end is  that the fruits of labour that it yields can be enjoyed throughout the process. In addition, it recalibrates hindsight into a tool that is a notch or two more positive. And this is revolutionary.

Foresightfully,

Kalle Tuomi, Futurice

Tero Vanhanen, Fira

Related blog posts