Svyatoslav Biryulin
Forecast and foresight – what's the difference?
They have little in common
They are humans
"The Great Horse-Manure Crisis of 1894" was a title of an article published in 2004. The name refers to a supposed 1894 publication in The Times, which said, "In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure". The reasoning was that more horses are needed to remove the manure, and these horses produce more manure. I believe no one needs to go to London to ensure that the city's streets are clean and that the air doesn't smell of horse excrement.

This was an example of a forecast (and quite a linear one) – an attempt to see tomorrow's picture using facts and numbers that are at hand. In simple words, that's what forecasters do. The most familiar example is a weather forecast – we use it daily. But, of course, not all the forecasts are such blunt. And even people are often skeptical of forecasts, many significant decisions worldwide are made daily basing on forecasts, and there are many institutions whose job is to make them. But I will not discuss the quality of forecast methods here, my task is to show the difference between them and foresight approaches.
If a building becomes architecture, then it is art
Whereas forecast is an attempt to answer the question "what will happen tomorrow?" foresight practitioners help organizations find an answer to another question: "What future would we like to have?". The future is not predictable, but it is creatable. The purpose of a foresight game, thus, is not to guess or calculate the future but to imagine the world in which team members would like to live, or the world they would like to avoid.

  • Both forecasters and foresight experts use today's facts to think about the future. But forecasters rather use firm facts and evidence, whereas futurists pay much attention to emerging issues.
  • Forecasters may look into the future for one year or even for one quarter. However, foresight experts rarely opt for less than a ten-year horizon.
  • The best KPI for a forecaster is accuracy. If a forecast comes true, the forecaster is a hero. The primary objective of a foresight project is to unleash a team's creativity by stimulating their imagination. Futurists don't aim to build an accurate picture of the future (which is impossible); they work with plausible scenarios of the possible future.

Both forecasts and foresight are used for strategic planning purposes. But we use them for different kinds of reasoning:

"What do we know about today, and how will it change our world tomorrow? How can we use this knowledge for long-term planning?"

"What do we know about tomorrow, and how may it change our world tomorrow? Would we like to speed up these changes or slow them down? What can we do to create a world we would like to live in based on weak signals of change we can observe today?"

If you would like to organise a foresight game for you organisation send me a message. If you like to watch stories more than read them, take a look at my YouTube channel. Don't forget to subscribe at the links below:
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