Does Futures Thinking speak to you?

  • user
  •  08.07.2021
  •  5 MIN

You are surely familiar with Design Thinking - a method of managing innovation for the uninitiated - but have you ever heard of Futures Thinking?


New on the market? Not really when we know that the method was deployed in the United States in the 1950s. It has nevertheless made a timid arrival in France for a few years.


Even if Design Thinking has really worked in France for 4-5 years, the study of prospects is still struggling. The leaders are always a little cautious and there is a real educational issue to be done in the market. A difficult and rigorous exercise on which it is necessary to free up time and for which it remains difficult to prove a short-term ROI. The pandemic we are experiencing will certainly have advanced mentalities on this subject.


The subject is very vast and - we will not hide it - quite complex. Our goal with this article is to shed light on this “new” trend. We interviewed Julia Delrieu, specialist in the subject, who leads strategic initiatives of Futures Thinking. She is also an active member of the Girlz in web association, for the integration of women in the digital world.

“The study of the outlook allows us to gain height, to see which elements are likely to modify our ecosystem. It takes a lot of vigilance, it's almost a researcher's job. "


A concept present for years in the United States

Project RAND was established in 1946 as a joint project between the United States Army Air Force and the Douglas Aircraft Company. Their focus was on the future of weapons and long-term planning to deal with future threats. Their work formed the basis of US strategy and policy on nuclear weapons, the Cold War, and the space race.

The purpose of this group was to advise the US military to improve policy and decision-making through applied research and strategic analysis.


This initiative marked the beginning of the IFTF (Institute For The Future), an organization committed to building the future by understanding it deeply. The Institute is positioned as a community at the crossroads of technological innovation, social experimentation and global exchanges. The movement really started to take off after the oil crisis of the 1980s.


A new method for businesses

"Futures Thinking" is implemented in companies to decipher new technologies and new uses of an existing product or solution, through a creative process in order to generate new business opportunities.


For some, it is the ability to envision scenarios for a desirable future, more favorable to mankind. For others, it is essentially a more systematic approach to looking to the longer-term future and developing better ways of dealing with uncertainty.

“Futures Thinking is the development of a posture to broaden the range of possibilities. The difference with Design Thinking is that with this method we proceed by funnel. The group organizes a brainstorming and we proceed a bit by elimination. Whereas with the Futures Thinking method, it's a bit like moving forward with a flashlight in total darkness: depending on where you decide to point, you will see what you are looking for. ”, Explains Julia Delrieu.


Companies also use these methods on exercises of thinking about the future such as building scenarios to “re-perceive the present”.

“We see a craze since the Covid on the future of possibilities. The workshops are generally ordered by clients who will then post certain studies carried out online. The propensity to experiment is strong if we are in a very competitive environment or in high risk markets. Usually companies outsource these kinds of projects to expert consultants. ”

Some examples of successes detected using this method are listed here.


“Futures Thinking” is ultimately seen as “multi-future thinking”. These are not predictions, but avenues for reflection. A vision should not be translated into a rigid master plan (based on a single future). In a very complex and turbulent world, there are often multiple interpretations, which are based on observations and interpretations of data.

In the references on the subject, you have Peter Schwartz, VP of SalesForce Strategic Planning or in France, Daniel Kaplan. You can find the latter on this podcast where he explains how and why he founded the University of Plurality.


How it works ?

A signal for a company, which will decide to form a working group, can come from an event, a patent filed, a political regulation for example. The method then teaches us to develop the ability to visualize and approach subjects without judgment.


Scenario planning, aimed at encouraging attention to the openness and irreducible uncertainty of tomorrow, will help the business improve preparedness for the future that may arise (rather than focusing on the future). prefer). The case of Covid-19 is perhaps the best example of the past 5 years. If this disaster scenario had been anticipated by a company, it would have established a crisis management protocol.


There are many challenges:

  • Imagine the jobs and skills of tomorrow
  • Understand new uses and emerging technologies
  • Position yourself in a new market
  • Find new business opportunities
  • Generate new ideas and step out of your comfort zone
  • Design the products and services of the future


Many tools are available to this group of thinkers: historical data, expert reports, tutorials, market intelligence, customer journey analyzes ... Everything can be useful for designing a strategy for a product, exploring market potential, estimate sales or formulate consumption assumptions.


To get an idea of ​​what could await us over the next 20-30 years, the center for reflection and prospective studies Futuribles (which since 1960 has been a driving force in France on the subject of “Futures Thinking”), has released last year its Vigie Report on possible “disruptive scenarios” to come.

“This method is ultimately very associated with science fiction, a bit on the model of“ Black Mirror ”. Authors of the genre also have an important place in research, because foresight is the desire to anticipate and understand what will happen and open up the field of possibilities based on current facts and experiences. "


We know that the “Futures Thinking” method works for companies with a solution already on the market. It remains to be seen whether these methods are as effective when the product does not yet exist, the market remains to be defined, or the uses of a technology have not even been identified yet.

More more about Futures Thinking

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