Chapter 3. Career Options - Great Ways to Be a Foresight Leader

1. For-Profits


For-profits contribute about 80% to US GDP before taxes (60% after), and make up about 70% of jobs. They offer by far the great majority of foresight careers in virtually every country of the world. Public for-profits have more reporting requirements than private ones, and typically have larger strategic planning and risk management departments, two traditional types of organizational foresight practice. But larger for-profit firms, whether public or private, don’t necessarily engage in more or better forecasting, horizon scanning, competitive intelligence, scenarios, expert groups, or other foresight methods. Size is no guarantee of a firm’s foresight competency in general.

Each firm’s foresight competency, whether public or private, large or small, is primarily a matter of its leadership’s priorities, past and present. Some leaders view foresight as a critical competitive advantage, but most don’t. To learn if a firm you are interested in treats foresight seriously, you’ll need to do some research, across the Twenty Specialties of modern foresight.

Do they regularly set goals? Do they plan, both quickly and often? Are plans taken seriously? Do they believe forecasting works? What kind of intelligence research, learning and conferencing do they do? How regularly do they generate and evaluate options? How seriously do they take innovation and entrepreneurship? Do they seek not just rapid growth and an early exit but also to build a high-performance or long-lived organization? A conscious commitment to foresight in all or most of its forms isn’t common, and must be built, usually function by function, often by top leadership.

As foresight processes often provide organizations with information they don’t want to hear, and hypotheses that are tentative, speculative, or controversial, establishing foresight in any firm requires a strong prioritization by leadership. Most large companies don’t have formal foresight departments. The minority that do have them still may not regularly implement their foresight findings in company strategy. Many large firms have a history of doing or commissioning foresight studies at the mid-management level. But many unfortunately ignore these studies in developing strategy, and fail to respond to obvious structural changes occurring in their markets. Well-known examples are Xerox, which missed the development of the personal computer industry even as it pioneered it in its R&D department, or Kodak, which missed adapting to the slow and obvious migration from film to digital imaging. Such firms often pay for, and then ignore the recommendations of their internal and external innovators, analysts, and consultants. A common result is downsizing, acquisition, or bankruptcy. Change management in large firms is hard, but there are also good methods available for it, as we will discuss in Kotter’s Eight Steps of Change Management in Chapter 4.

Schwartz (1996)

Schwartz (1996)

A few for-profit firms have long been foresight pioneers. The energy giant Royal Dutch Shell (commonly known as Shell) began using trend analysis and scenario planning in 1972. Shell’s top leadership strongly believes their commitment to foresight work has given them a long-term competitive advantage, including a better ability to anticipate and rapidly respond to global trends and discontinuities. Shell’s innovative journey to better foresight is well outlined in The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz (1996), and explored in detail in The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience, Angela Wilkinson (2014). Shell futurist Arie De Geus, after discovering that the life expectancy of a Fortune 500 firm was less than 50 years, also proposed in The Living Company (1997) that becoming a learning organization, and pursuing decentralization and diversification might be useful ways to extend corporate lifespan, though the data to validate any corporate longevity strategies today remains thin. In recent decades, turnover volatility in market capitalization rankings has grown steadily, one measure of accelerating change that makes growth foresight for individual organizations challenging. A 2012 Innosight study found the average lifetime of a firm’s listing on the S&P 500 (top firms by market capitalization) was 61 years in 1958, but it is just 18 years today. The forces of accelerating change, globalization, and creative destruction in business grow stronger every year, and present great foresight challenges to modern firms, large or small. In post-recession economies, such as ours today, entrepreneurship has recently been shown to be a very important force for job creation. Fully half of all jobs gains are created by startups in such periods, according to a 2014 Federal Reserve study. Given history to date, it would be naïve to expect our current era of scientific, technical, and business process acceleration to slow down in the foreseeable future.

Stack (1993/2013)

Stack (1993/2013)

Some larger companies, like Phillips, use idea generation as a formal input to their innovation process. Others, like IBM and Volvo, use foresight processes as an input to decision making. Several large companies like Siemens, Daimler, and BASF have robust corporate foresight units. See our starter list of large company foresight leaders in Appendix 2, and see Corporate Foresight in Europe (PDF), Patrick Becker (2002), for a survey of different approaches to corporate foresight. Some very large employee-owned firms, like SAIC+Leidos, with combined revenues of $11B (see The SAIC Solution, Bob Beyster (2007)), and the John Lewis Partnership, $9.5B revenues, also have large foresight and planning groups. Perhaps employee-owned firms are more motivated to both grow market share and to protect long-term value than their traditional corporate counterparts (this is only a supposition, I’d like to see comparative data). Some small and medium-sized private firms are known to prioritize foresight processes. See Appendix 2 for a few recognized leaders in that regard. But in general, smaller firms have less resources to do internal foresight work, and all but the more conventional foresight methods are a harder sell. Among the exceptions are open-book management, outlined in The Great Game of Business, Jack Stack (2013). This is a popular bottom-up, foresight-centric method to help maximize the transparency, goalsetting, and financial health of an organization, and it can be implemented even easier in small than in large organizations, if leadership sees its value. Open-book management elicits a broad set of future performance targets from low-level teams, incentivizes them to achieve those targets, and makes team and firm performance internally much more transparent and accountable.

Certain industries are particularly biased in favor of seeking and rewarding foresight. Financial services, the largest industry group in the world when measured by either earnings or market capitalization, is also the best-known specialty where a better ability to predict the future is greatly rewarded. For a broad introduction to financial services and their fascinating history, you might enjoy Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money (2009), or watch the four video episodes. In reality, most asset managers are poor predictors of investment performance, usually faring a bit worse than the market itself. Nevertheless a gifted few have consistently beat market averages for long time periods, developing superior foresight in specific domains. Whenever wealth managers, financial planners, brokers, analysts, venture capitalists, angels, or ordinary investors gain consistent economic foresight, they benefit greatly from it. There are also constant innovations in this vast industry. For one example, read The Launch Pad, Randy Stross (2013), about Y Combinator, and a new type of angel investing, business accelerators.

Insurance is another traditional industry that powerfully rewards superior management of the future. Large insurers tend to be quite conservative, even contrary in their approach to the future, but smaller insurance companies often grow by taking clients and issuing policies that seem riskier to larger insurers but are actually not. Companies that self-fund their own insurance plans via self-insurance, captive insurance, and medical tourism can also gain competitive advantage via better risk management foresight. Reinsurers such as Swiss Re, who insure large and small insurance companies, usually have the best, most evidence-based and validated foresight and risk management models in the world. They should, as trillions are riding on their long-term success as forecasters.

McDonald (2013)

McDonald (2013)

After in-house foresight efforts, services provided by management consultancies are the most common form of corporate foresight work. A classic entryway to an organizational foresight career is a few years in consulting after an MBA or other masters degree, then getting hired by a company of interest, often a client, doing a startup, or staying on track to senior associate or partner at the consultancy. A good consultancy can train you in trend and market research, analysis, intelligence, report writing, presentation, business development, sales, marketing, and client relations. Unfortunately, consulting work may not improve the client’s innate foresight competency, resiliency, adaptability, or learning ability. Larger consultancies are often adept at competitive intelligence, and some of the biggest offer serious political connections and quasi-legal industrial espionage. For a nonfiction tale about one of the leading ones, see The Firm: The Story of McKinsey, Duff McDonald (2013). Most consultancies are for-profit, but a few are nonprofit, typically ones dealing with government clients.

You’ll have a very different work experience depending on whether you work in a large (500+ employees), mid-size (100-500 employees), or small consultancy. Large for-profit consultancies include publicly-owned technical consulting firms like Leidos and IBM Global Services, top management consulting firms like McKinsey, Booz & Co., Deloitte, and PwC, market research companies like Gartner, Forrester, and Frost & Sullivan, publishers like The Economist Group, and event and training companies like Institute for International Research (producer of the Foresight & Trends conference). Mid-sized for-profit foresight companies include decision support and predictive analytics firms like Palantir Technologies (~500 employees), Applied Predictive Technologies (200 employees), ideation and innovation management firms like Bright Idea (100 employees) and Spigit (100 employees), and foresight consultancies like The Futures Company (110 employees, a subsidiary of the Kantar Group). Small for-profit foresight consultancies include Stratfor (70 employees), Decision Strategies International (30 employees), Kairos Future (30 employees), predictive analytics firms like Elder Research (24 employees), and others listed in Appendix 2 and at

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Table of Contents


Chapter 2. Personal Foresight – Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 2: Personal Foresight

Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 4. Models – Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 4: Models

Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 7. Acceleration – Guiding Our Extraordinary Future

Chapter 7: Acceleration

Guiding Our Extraordinary Future (In Process)

II. Global Progress: 5 Goals, 10 Values, Many Trends

Innovation: Our Abundant Future
Intelligence: Our Augmented Future
Interdependence: Our Civil Future
Immunity: Our Protected Future
Sustainability: Our Rebalanced Future

III. Universal Accelerating Change

Great Race to Inner Space: Our Surprising Future
Entropy&Information: We’re Running Down & Up
The Puzzle of Meaning: We Have No Einstein Yet
Trees, Funnels & Landscapes: Intro to Evo Devo
Big Picture Change: Five Scales of Accelerating ED
Transcension Hypothesis: Where Acceleratn Ends?
IDABDAK: Social Response to Accel & Developmnt
We’re On a Runaway Train: Being Accelaware

IV. Evo Devo and Exponential Foresight

Seeing It All: Accel., Diverg, Adapt, Convrg, Decel.
Natural (I4S) Innovation: The Evolutionary Drive
Natural (I4S) Intelligence: The Human-AI Partnership
Natural (I4S) Morality: Why Empathy and Ethics Rule
Natural (I4S) Security: Strength from Disruption
Natural (I4S) Sustainability: The Developmental Drive
S-Curves: Managing the Four Constituencies
Pain to Gain: Traversing the Three Kuznets Phases
Hype to Reality: Beyond Hype Cycles to Reality Checks
Exponentials Database: Measuring Accelerations
TINA Trends: Societal Evolutionary Development
Managing Change: STEEPCOP Events, Probs, Ideas
A Great Shift: A Survival to a Sentient Economy

V. Evo Devo and Exponential Activism

Building Protopias: Five Goals of Social Progress
Normative Foresight: Ten Values of Society
Top & STEEPCOP Acceleratns: Positive & Negative
Dystopias, Risks, and Failure States
Three Levels of Activism: People, Tech & Universe
A Great Opportunity: Exponential Empowerment


Chapter 8. Your Digital Self – The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

Chapter 8: Your Digital Self

The Human Face of the Coming Singularity (In Process)

I. Your Personal AI (PAI): Your Digital Self

Digital Society: Data, Mediation, and Agents
Personal AIs: Advancing the Five Goals
PAI Innovation: Abundance and Diversity
PAI Intelligence: Bio-Inspired AI
PAI Morality: Selection and Groupnets
PAI Security: Safe Learning Agents
PAI Sustainability: Science and Balance
The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

II. PAI Protopias & Dystopias in 8 Domains

1. Personal Agents: News, Ent., Education
2. Social Agents: Relat. and Social Justice
3. Political Agents :  Activism & Represent.
4. Economic Agents:  Retail, Finance, Entrep
5. Builder Agents :  Work, Innov. & Science
6. Environ. Agents : Pop. and Sustainability
7. Health Agents :  Health, Wellness, Death
8. Security Agents :  Def., Crime, Corrections

III. PAI Activism & Exponential Empowerment

Next Government: PAIs, Groupnets, Democ.
Next Economy: Creat. Destr. & Basic Income
Next Society: PAI Ent., Mortality & Uploading
What Will Your PAI Contribution Be?

Chapter 10. Startup Ideas – Great Product & Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs

Chapter 10: Startup Ideas

Great Product and Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs (In Process)

I. 4U’s Idea Hub: Building Better Futures

Air Deliveries and Air Taxis: Finally Solving Urban Gridlock
Ballistic Shields and Gun Control: Protecting Us All from Lone Shooters
Bioinspiration Wiki: Biomimetics and Bio-Inspired Design
Brain Preservation Services: Memory and Mortality Redefined
Carcams: Document Thieves, Bad Driving, and Bad Behavior
Competition in Govt Services: Less Corruption, More Innovation
Computer Adaptive Education (CAE): Better Learning and Training
Conversational Deep Learning Devsuites: Millions of AI Coders
Digital Tables: Telepresence, Games, Entertainment & Education
Dynaships: Sustainable Low-Speed Cargo Shipping
Electromagnetic Suspension: Nausea-Free Working & Reading in Cars
Epigenetic Health Tests: Cellular Aging, Bad Diet, Body Abuse Feedback
Fireline Explosives and Ember Drones: Next-Gen Fire Control
Global English: Empowering the Next Generation of Global Youth
Greenbots: Drone Seeders and Robotic Waterers for Mass Regreening
High-Density Housing and Zoning: Making Our Cities Affordable Again
Highway Enclosures and Trail Networks: Green and Quiet Urban Space
Inflatable Packaging: Faster and Greener Shipping and Returns
Internet of Families: Connecting People Over Things
Kidcams: Next-Gen Security for Child Safety and Empowerment
Kidpods: Indoor & Outdoor Parent-Assistive Toyboxes
Microdesalination: Democratizing Sustainable Fresh Water Production
Noise Monitors: Documenting and Reducing Noise Pollution
Oceanside Baths: Sustainable Year Round Beach Enjoyment
Open Blood Scanners: DIY Citizen Health Care Sensor Tech
Open Streaming Radio: User-Centered Audio Creation and Rating
Open Streaming Video: User-Centered Video Creation and Rating
Open Values Filters: Social Rankers, Arg. Mappers, and Consensus Finders
Personal AIs: Your Private Advisor, Activist, and Interface to the World
Pet Empowerment: Next-Gen Rights and Abilities for Our Domestic Animals
Safe Closets: Fire-, Earthquake-, and Intruder-Proof Retreat Spaces
Safe Cars: Reducing Our Insane 1.3M Annual Auto Deaths Today
Safe Motorcycles: Lane Splitting in Gridlock Without Risk of Death
Shared Value Insurance: User-Centered Risk Reduction Services
Sleeperbuses and Microhotels: Demonetized Intercity Travel
Space-Based Solar Power: Stratellite Powering and Weather Management
Stratellites: Next-Gen Urban Broadband, Transparency, and Security
Touch DNA: Next-Gen Home Security and Crime Deterrence
View Towers: Improving Urban Walkability, Inspiration, and Community

Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight – Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Chapter 11: Evo Devo Foresight

Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Appendix 1. Peer Advice – Building a Successful Foresight Practice