You’ve Survived, Now What? (Part 2)

Continued from You've Survived, Now What? (Part 1) Visual Analysis to Enhance Insight

Insight occurs when there is the conscience recognition of relationships with or associations among objects, previously deemed unrelated, that help solve problems or provide new perspectives on problems. Sanders believes that the creation of visual images activates deeper levels of awareness which helps develop insight. Both Sanders and Canton recommend techniques for drawing on the qualities and capabilities of the creative right brain hemisphere. These techniques are very reminiscent of a mind map, a long-used technique for graphically displaying concepts and relationships. The use of these graphic techniques has several benefits. First, it provides a vehicle for getting many concepts, some complementary, some contradictory and some seemingly unrelated in the same visual space, which is difficult to do with numerical analysis. Secondly, it provides a vehicle for the identification and understanding of issues, and encourages participation by non-quantitative leaders and followers, whose contributions may be limited, or even excluded, from a more quantitative approach. Lastly, it provides a simple tool to engage all members of the organization into the process of understanding issues, obstacles and opportunities, and provides insight that might otherwise be missed.


From Forecast to Foresight

Forecasting is one result of strategic quantitative analysis. A forecast of the anticipated environment in which an organization will operate is based on analysis of existing conditions and trends, i.e., what is known. As previously discussed, forecasting a chaotic and ever changing future environment via extrapolation from current data, regardless of how sophisticated the forecasting tool, can produce seriously inaccurate results that can lead to faulty and even fatal organizational decisions. According to Sanders, foresight is the ability to see what concepts, trends and issues may be emerging today that may significantly impact the future. She believes that foresight helps leaders understand the dynamics of change in a larger context and, significantly, to recognize new conditions in development. Importantly, Sanders emphasizes that with foresight leaders have the ability to help create the future by influencing these newly developing conditions. This is where truly significant strategic opportunities arise, and where strategic disasters are avoided. To quote Sanders: “The present is the future in its most creative state.”

Scan to Develop Foresight

The type of visual mapping devises recommended by both Sanders and Canton also provides a vehicle to facilitate the development of foresight. The development of foresight has two basic requirements. The first is a comprehensive, whole-system scan of the environment in which each organization operates. In today’s complex global system, opportunities and threats can be introduced at any point and at any time. To neglect the whole-system perspective leaves leaders at risk of missing a significant, developing condition. The first step, therefore, is observing your organization’s issues from a global perspective and mapping the findings and observations, and then looking for heretofore unseen relationships.

The second requirement according to Sanders for developing foresight is searching for “perking” information. Perking information is new or emerging conditions that may be insignificant now, but could at some point have significant impact on some aspect of the global system, or at a minimum, the immediate environment of your organization. These are new conditions which may be taking shape below the surface of normal activity that only well developed insight or foresight can identify. Examples of perking information are the early imports of low-end Japanese cars in the mid-1970’s; the early foreclosures related to subprime mortgages in 2003; the creation of Napster; and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Recognition of these “perking” conditions would have provided a glimpse of the future.

Engage the Whole Team

Even the simplest and smallest organizations exist in a global, chaotic, complex and rapidly-changing environment. In larger organizations, growing complexity only increases the potential risk of not implementing strategic thinking. The magnitude of the risk of not implementing systems to develop strategic insight of the current environment and foresight of the future is evidenced by the failures of major organizations over the last couple of years. However, the task of developing insight and foresight cannot adequately be accomplished solely by leadership teams, regardless of their experience and education. Sanders recommends that engaging all leaders and followers for this purpose is essential. Those employees closest to the environment are those that can identify relationships with products, customers, vendors and other stakeholders to which leaders do not typically have access. Similarly, perking data may best be identified by those in the business environment that will experience changing conditions in the earliest stages. The engagement of all members of organizations will help leaders identify the future today.

Create the Future.

The leadership challenge in this chaotic, complex and rapidly changing world cannot be overstated. Classic tools have proven to be inadequate or of limited value in many cases. Successful leaders of tomorrow will elevate the strategic management process to include enhanced strategic thinking. This will include the development of insight and foresight through the use of visually enhanced thinking. It will also involve the participation of both right-brain creative and left-brain analytical leaders. Finally, all members of the organization must be included in the process, particularly those closest to the action to help identify critical “perking” information. Leaders that fail to engage in strategic thinking risk strategic failure; those that do will create their future.

Michael Petty is the managing partner of North Star Partners. North Star Partners assists companies in the areas of leadership development, strategic thought and application, and financial stewardship. He is also a doctoral candidate in the Strategic Leadership Program at Regent University, in Virginia Beach, VA, USA. Mike can be contacted at: