We all know people who seem to see the future.  Some have the insight to look ahead, envision where they want to be, and plot the course to get there.  Others anticipate danger around the curve a little quicker than the rest of us.

These individuals have foresight—the ability to anticipate future events and devise plans to take advantage of opportunities and minimize risk.  Foresight is not simply some vague intuitive talent that some have, and others do not.  Foresight can be learned, and in today’s world it is an essential skill.

Futurists predict that liberal arts graduates are going to be more valuable in the future because much of the computing power of the technical graduates will be replaced by technology.

But this reasoning assumes foresight cannot be taught.  The world is changing so quickly that all of us must be diligent in scanning developments to plan our careers and businesses.  Long gone are the days when one would graduate from college and work in the same career until retirement.

With the projected lengthening of life spans many students graduating today will have multiple careers before they retire, but colleges are ill-equipped to prepare them for the careers that will exist 20 years from now.  We need to teach our students foresight to enable them to not only recognize trends as they are developing, but also to rapidly adapt to changing conditions in the marketplace.

Our colleges and universities are not teaching foresight skills to the leaders of tomorrow. So how and where can we acquire these skills if not in the classroom?

One method of teaching foresight is through mentoring.  Effective mentors do more than assist mentees in planning a career; they help develop foresight, and can do so from two perspectives.  The first one, as discussed above, is to assist in the recognition of existing opportunities and risks and the optimal ways to adapt to them.

The second, often referred to as backcasting, is to instruct in the development of career objectives and a plan to achieve them.  An individual or company forms a vision of where he wants to be at some point in the future and then looks back to envision what needs to happen to get to that point.

How can these approaches benefit your company?  We expect our business leaders to have foresight, but, in reality, too many demonstrate a glaring lack of “the vision thing”.

Business owners are bombarded with so much information about emerging and future trends that they lack the time or the foresight to effectively use this trend information.  And with the rapid pace of change, it is not just CEO’s that need foresight.  All decision makers need to react quickly to changing markets (and market conditions).

To do so they require a process:  one that makes the use of trend information and foresight systematic throughout their organizations.

Jay McIntosh, SCORE Volunteer: Seeing the Future