Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight: Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

1. Evolutionary Factors

We’ve said that ideally, the best foresight “starts with certainty”, with finding those high probability things that we all agree upon, to constrain our possibility space before we begin exploring it. But in practice, many individuals and teams will prefer to do the reverse, to start with evolutionary thinking. Per the 95/5 rule, evolutionary thinking is our favorite heuristic, or mental shortcut, for modeling how the world works. So it makes sense that many of us prefer to “start with possibilities” before we move to probabilities.

For example, when your team hasn’t done much developmental or predictive thinking, they may prefer to start with what they know best, which may be possibility thinking. That’s fine, as long as you don’t skip probabilities later. Also, when you don’t yet know enough about a topic or system to be able to think broadly about it, it can make the most sense to begin by divergently exploring and mapping possibilities with respect to what to investigate (Skill 1: Learning), then converging on relevant probable trends and futures, then diverging into possible futures, then converging on preferences and goals, diverging to a small set of strategic options around those goals, and finally, converging on a current short-term strategic plan or task list. This alternating evo and devo approach is essential to the Eight Skills. Every good leader and facilitator becomes adept at it, sensing when may be time to shift direction, and asking the team if they concur.

If you start your journey through the Three P’s with evolutionary thinking, you will have more territory to wade through on your way to a solution. On the positive side, you will uncover more things that will need to be assessed for their probability, and that may be worthwhile. But on the negative side, you can more easily get lost in unimportant and low-probability considerations.

Where you begin your Three P’s journey is far less important than being sure to use and value all three types of foresight. In doing foresight work, try to find a cognitively and skills diverse group of people who have deep experience in the field, as well as a few novices, and let them figure out where to start. Some will prefer to start with what they think they know (probabilities), and others with what they don’t know (possibilities). Just be sure to include, along with your creative thinkers, a good number of folks who think they can forecast and predict some relevant elements of the future in question, or you’ll have a digressive and low-value foresight exercise.

In evo devo foresight, you need to use both evolutionary and developmental approaches, working in tension and sometimes at odds with each other, to figure out the most preferred futures, including the best strategies for delivering the most adaptive solutions you can to your stakeholders, whether they know what those solutions are in advance, or only when they see them, as Steve Jobs might say. Let’s look at some evolutionary foresight factors now.

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