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COLLABORATIVE FORESIGHT IN A COMPETITIVE WORLD: THE BUSINESS CASE FOR OPEN FORESIGHT HUB

By David Jonker


Foresight is often conducted in private, behind an organization’s castle walls. But increasingly, that’s the wrong approach. To truly succeed today, organizations need foresight to be conducted openly, collaboratively in the village square. Only by collectively understanding possible futures, and creating shared images of better ones, will we be able to realize them. The time has come for a digital hub where our global village can come together to openly and collectively engage in foresight. 


YIN YANG OF STRATEGY

We can’t fault leaders for thinking foresight is best done in private. After all, bookshelves are full of titles claiming strategy is about “playing to win.”  Where we need to “differentiate or die.” And “eat their lunch.” Why? Because “only winners take all.” All of these strategy experts are simply feeding our primal brains, wired with brute survival skills to focus on the different and unexpected, while ignoring everything else.


The problem is this primeval response causes us to focus on the Yin of business (covert, hidden) while ignoring the Yang (open, integrative). We easily forget that in business you cannot compete if you do not cooperate. And you cannot differentiate if you do not assimilate. These opposite yet complementary elements are fundamental to every organization’s success.

Consider the sport of football. Every game is played the same. And every team has cooperated on and assimilated the same rules, player positions, equipment, uniforms, playing fields, season schedules, stadiums, revenue models, hot dogs, beer, and merchandise.

While every superfan focuses on what makes their team different, in reality, teams assimilate and cooperate far more than they differentiate and compete. This leads to a foundational truth about strategy:


It takes more than one to compete and differentiate;

it takes at least two, who cooperate and assimilate.


Yin Yang in harmony.


The same goes for business, as well as governments, and just about any other type of institution. Every organization that wants to succeed must first assimilate and cooperate. The more their peers, competitors, and stakeholders play the same game, the more they can succeed.


That’s why organizations assimilate and cooperate on the same market model, financial instruments, governance structure, capital structure, industries, lines of business, job roles and skills, accounting methods, marketing methods, manufacturing methods, supply chains, transportation systems, energy systems, and the list goes on and on.


While those who eventually “win” do so because they differentiate or outcompete in some small but important way, in reality the best and worst organizations are more similar than different. Every multinational organization measures its cooperative partnerships in the hundreds and thousands, while its fierce competitors can often be counted on one hand.

Clearly then, winners assimilate and cooperate far more than they differentiate and compete. But it’s more than a question of balance; it’s a dependency. To out-compete in today’s world requires one to out-cooperate. 


COMPETITIVE YIN NEEDS COOPERATIVE YANG

Pick up a history book and you’ll likely read of leaders being overthrown, wars being won, territories conquered. In other words, competition. Yet in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari makes the case that humanity’s progress is a result of assimilation and cooperation: 


“Much of history revolves around this question: How does one convince millions of people to believe particular stories about gods, or nations, or limited liability companies? Yet when it succeeds, it gives Sapiens immense power, because it enables millions of strangers to cooperate and work towards common goals.” (p. 33)


The stories of competition that fill history books are often between competing ideas that seek to assimilate and cooperate. And those who succeed often did so because their ideas drove the kind of assimilation and cooperation needed to win. 


This same truth is at play today. Consider any corporate brand. In reality most brands are a network of organizations working together. For instance, Coca-Cola depends on a global network of bottling partners. McDonald’s depends on its global franchise network. Auto makers depend on their networks of suppliers and distributors. For a brand to outcompete, it must out-cooperate, where the business network assimilates the same vision and cooperates to execute the plan. 


This truth has never been more important for the future. Our world faces many challenges over the coming decades — climate change, aging and declining populations, and the uncertainty of AI to name a few. Each of these put into question economic and governance models based on nonstop growth. Achieving prosperous and sustainable futures will take new worldviews and mental models.


But here’s the rub. 


It will take most organizations to assimilate the same worldviews and mental models. Creating a prosperous and sustainable tomorrow takes a village; a global village, to be precise. No one organization, business network, or nation can accomplish this on their own.


In other words, we need to play a new “game.” Before organizations focus on the Yin of differentiation and competition, we need to come together on the Yang of cooperation and assimilation. We need to create shared images of the game, its rules, player positions, uniforms, stadiums, revenue models, and so on and so forth.


FORESIGHT BUILDS COOPERATIVE YANG

Enter foresight. Not traditional foresight done in private, behind castle walls. Rather, foresight that is open and collaborative, conducted in the village square, for all to see and participate in. One that creates images of prosperous and sustainable futures assimilated by every organization; cooperatively imagined and realized.


Open, collaborative foresight can work because at the highest levels every organization faces the same issues and drivers of change. Sure, there are differences by nation, region, community, and industry. But again, there is more common ground than uncommon. More to assimilate than differentiate.


If organizations can come to see and understand the same possible and plausible futures, and to agree to the same preferred futures, then our global village will have taken a giant leap towards shared images of a prosperous and sustainable tomorrow. Shared images that we can assimilate and cooperate to realize.


It’s through many people sharing their perspectives that we can begin to see issues, opportunities, and implications more clearly. It’s the same concept behind open-source software, where lots of people contributing leads to better software. Or as Eric S. Raymond said: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” (The Cathedral and the Bazaar, 1999) In a similar way, many eyeballs lead to better futures. This gives us a central tenet of Open Foresight:


Given enough perspectives, all futures are clear.


Assimilating many perspectives about better futures, in an inclusive and collaborative way, makes them, well, better. It also means more people will in turn assimilate those better futures and cooperate to realize them. 


And it begins in the village square.


OPEN FORESIGHT NEEDS A VILLAGE SQUARE

Centered on crowd-sourced wiki principles and published under creative commons license, Open Foresight Hub is designed for anyone to access and contribute perspectives about futures. 


The idea for Open Foresight Hub took shape during the winter of 2022-2023. Emerging out of my studies in strategic foresight at the University of Houston — and with the support from Andy Hines and the team at University of Houston, the Foresight Academy, SAP and hard-working interns — the site launched in 2023. 


Like a good village square, there is just enough structure to the space for self-organization and self-expression, as well as for contribution. The Open Foresight Hub centers around three digital spaces:


  • Encyclopedia: To understand, and to be understood, begins with a shared language and body of knowledge. This includes the terminology, tools, and techniques as well as the stories about people and places, and the community’s past, present, and futures. 


  • Library: A diversity of views about futures already exist, spread across hundreds of sites around the globe. The library is intended to make those views easily accessible by indexing and tagging them by topic, method, time horizon, and geographic scope. By the time this article is published the library will likely be the largest published index of openly available foresight-related reports in the world.


  • Futures: Building on a shared knowledge and language, and an index of many different views, the community can build crowd-sourced summaries of different futures and the myriad of forces shaping them. The Futures space is intended for collective collaboration to shape dynamically evolving futures, synthesizing the diversity of existing perspectives and seeking additional perspectives.


The Open Foresight Hub aspires to play a role in weaving together different perspectives and iterating our way towards clearer visions of better tomorrows. Join us as we seek to shape the project, a community, and our understanding of futures and the forces shaping them. 

Together, we can bring futures Yang into a world of Yin.


Join the Open Foresight Hub community at: www.OpenForesightHub.org 


 

David Jonker is the founder of the Open Foresight Hub. Jonker earned his M.S. in Strategic Foresight from the University of Houston and his Bachelor’s degree in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo. 

David is also the Vice President of the Insights research center at SAP, which studies, business audiences, systems, and issues. Previously, David led innovation, product management, and marketing teams for a range of technology solutions, including machine learning, analytics, and Big Data. David’s career also includes more than 10 years in software R&D and User Experience research.


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