Strategic Intelligence
6 min read

How to Develop Strategic Foresight Through Environmental Scanning

Innovative businesses in today's environment often face unpredictability and ambiguity. Many have been caught off guard due to unexpected events, economic volatility, and disruptive innovations.

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April 12, 2024
Strategic Intelligence
6 min read

Consequently, foresight teams within these companies often blame themselves for failing to anticipate these changes. As a result, they try to come up with strategies like building a virtual crystal ball to predict the future.

But is relying solely on predictive methods the most effective strategy?  Strategic foresight challenges this approach as it is about imagining what could happen instead of what will happen. By keeping a pulse on the latest trends and changes in the market, organisations can better position themselves for success in turbulent times.

What if success isn't just about predicting the future but about actively shaping it?

Instead of diving into the broader concept of strategic foresight, in this article, we explore its foundational element: environmental scanning. Companies that invest proactively in this phase gain valuable insights that empower them to lead change in their industries and shape the direction of the market evolution. 

Strategic foresight for business success

Starting out with strategic foresight means more than just forecasting the immediate future. It's about making well-informed decisions by focusing on long-term thinking and planning, where we not only analyse trends but also anticipate potential disruptions and imagine various scenarios that could impact future success. 

For instance, consider a retail company that incorporates strategic foresight into its planning process. Instead of only reacting to changes in consumer preferences, it anticipates shifts in the market landscape by analysing demographic trends, technological advancements, and socio-economic factors. By envisioning potential scenarios, such as the rise of e-commerce or changing shopping behaviors, the company can adapt its strategies proactively.

As opposed to simply reacting to market changes, this approach allows you to proactively prepare well in advance. Doing so has many benefits, including reducing risks, capitalising on opportunities, and improving overall organisational performance. However, for optimal results, it's recommended to integrate strategic foresight early in the strategy development processes.

Foresight expert Joseph Voros provided a useful framework for understanding how foresight fits into this process (Voros, 2003). Foresight, as part of strategic thinking, helps explore strategic options, which then informs decision-making in strategy development and implementation.

From strategic thinking to planning (based on Voros, 2003)
Tip: Strategic foresight should not be a stand-alone or separate activity, but rather a part of the normal strategy-making process.

What is environmental scanning and why does it matter?

Environmental scanning, also known as horizon scanning, is a systematic process of exploring potential threats, opportunities, and likely future developments that are at the margins of current thinking and planning. 

It is used to detect early signs of potentially important developments and focuses on new technology and its effects on the issue at hand.

Know that this approach to strategic foresight goes beyond traditional forecasting by proactively identifying emerging issues and weak signals that may impact the organisation's future course. Rather than predicting the future, its main goal is to offer new perspectives, challenge assumptions, and provide decision-makers with more options.

Environmental scanning is a valuable tool for risk management, as it leads to early detection and assessment of emerging issues and weak signals. By applying scenario analysis and engaging multiple stakeholders across disciplines and departments, organisations can ensure a rapid, systematic process of pattern recognition to understand both positive and negative signs.

Note: Encouraging a culture of continual questioning and critical thinking is important at this stage. It's more than practicing a technical exercise. It prompts organisations to consider 'what could be' instead of just focusing on 'what is'.

6 steps to set up environmental scanning

Continuously scanning your environment is essential as the economic landscape is driven by growing complexity, increasing uncertainty (e.g., technology innovations), and market disruptions (e.g., new disruptive value propositions). To establish an effective environmental scan process, consider the following steps:

Step 1: Decide what to scan: This involves identifying the external and internal factors your organisation needs to address in the future. The goal here is to identify the source of potential change before it is well established. Define the scope and time horizon of the scan, aiming to capture changes over the next 5 or 10 years without narrowing the focus too much initially.

Step 2: Set up a classification system: Choose the categories that will be used to classify all your findings. Going for a PESTLE (Politics, Economics, Social, Technological, Legal, Environment) or STEEP (Social, Technology, Economy, Environment, Politics) framework is the perfect starting point for your scanning activities.

Step 3: Start to scan: Once you have set up the structure, it is time to start scanning a wide variety of sources that could potentially change the future landscape. But where to look for uncertainties? Consider scanning various and rich sources to gather diverse insights.

This does not have to happen manually, as our AI-powered strategic intelligence platform automates data collection from various sources such as news articles, research papers, industry reports, and more.

Scanners should concentrate on spotting weak signals, expanding insights, and emerging issues that could influence the future. These are early signs of potential change that haven't yet gained attention in mainstream discourse.

Where to start scanning. Source: Trendtracker

Step 4: Record your hits: After a period of scanning, a system will have to be put in place that shows what has been found. Including a preliminary step of considering the categories that will be used to classify and record the information.

Step 5:  Share your findings: The discoveries of the scanning group should be shared throughout the organisation. This can be done through regular communications like 'look what we've found' newsletters or short reports. It serves to increase awareness of external developments.

Step 6:  Involve relevant stakeholders: Make sure to involve anyone who wants to be part of the scanning process. Diversity of perspective is key to challenging assumptions about what is possible in the future and moving beyond business-as-usual approaches to strategy development. Involve a broader group of employees from different departments, with different backgrounds.

Traditional vs. innovative approaches for scanning the environment

Traditional methods of environmental scanning, such as desk research, interviews, and consultations, have long been used to collect insights into the external environment.

While these methods have their values, they often require significant time and resources to execute effectively. 

However, there is a more scalable and efficient way of scanning the environment. By automating it with our Trend Radar. Let's explore how further in the article. 

How Trendtracker's Trend Radar improves environmental scanning 

Previously, we focused on using qualitative methods to leverage your market knowledge and understand the macro and micro-environment surrounding your organisation. This information serves as an input to what comes next.

In recent years, traditional environmental scanning methods have undergone a significant transformation due to advancements in technology and the digital landscape. Automated environmental scanning, powered by advanced technology and data analytics, has emerged as a highly recommended approach, marking a shift from manual methods towards more efficient and scalable techniques.

Data-driven trend research not only filters and cross-checks internal assumptions but also adds scale and proof points to the exercise. It simplifies data analysis and identifies actionable opportunities to achieve strategic goals and stay ahead of the competition.

Save time and improve your environmental scanning experience by using our trend radar.

We know it does as leading companies like Ageas and P&G use our AI-powered strategic intelligence platform to monitor developments around their company that could impact their business in 3, 5 or 10 years. 

Identifying all the uncertainties in your external environment is important. To streamline this process and minimize human bias and time constraints, AI-powered trend radars tirelessly work round-the-clock, continuously monitoring trends and their evolution. 

So, if Ageas, Procter and Gamble, BNP Paribas, and many other leading companies use automated trend radars to fast-track their innovation and strategy development, why wouldn't you too? Today is the day to start. 

The future belongs to those who adapt and view challenges as opportunities. AI-powered trend radars, such as Trendtracker's, guide innovative businesses like yours through uncertainty.

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