Foresight Consultants in the areas of strategic foresight, strategic planning consultants, strategic planning facilitator, supervisor training, supervisory training, teamwork training, the future, training seminars, vision of the future


Seeding Futures Thinking ...

Resolving the Moral Impediments to Foresight


pdf Resolving the Moral Impediments to Foresight Action.pdf


Dr Peter Hayward


1 The Moral Imperative


The Millennium Pro ject by the American Council for the United Nations University created a Global Lookout Panel to identify reasons for success or failure of individuals and organisations to heed the warnings provided by a range of foresight research.


The top ten impediments the Global Lookout Panel identified were:


• Institutional. No responsibility to act or little co-ordination between responsible agents.
• Financial. Unwilling or unable to provide resources.
• Lack of interest in the future. Near-term issues thought more important.
• Planning inadequacy. Lack of a long-term view.
• Personnel. Lack of decision skills or understanding of complexities.
• Strategic. Lack of strategy, goals and coordinated actions.
• Complexity. Lack of understanding, lack of models, stereotypical thinking.
• Political. Interferes with national interest or supported by political opponent.
• Information. Lack of accurate and reliable data or uncertain of risks.
• Lack of consensus. Differing interests and ideology (?, p.178).


When that list is examined, one gets a sense that the inability of individuals and organisations to act upon foresight research can be addressed by better organisational design, planning, resourcing and skilling. You can imagine a presentation to an executive team saying that, ‘if we get the right people and processes in place then we will be able to get value for money from our foresight research’. Organisation charts would be redesigned, training courses held and inspiring words spoken by the CEO to the staff. Yet come the next big business crisis, funding shortfall, political earthquake or competitor triumph then would the newfound commitment to foresight be sustained? Perhaps it would be, or more likely, it will be replaced by pragmatic business needs to take action now. ‘Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes’.


It is not the purpose of this paper to undermine the importance of design, resources and planning in successful foresight projects but rather to highlight that the organisational capability to consider future implications is synonymous with the individual capability of the people in that organisation to do that very same thing. Without an individual capability to understand there is no organisational capability either. Plotinus in AD 270 said it best. Adaequatio rei et intel lectus (‘the understanding of the knower must be adequate to the thing to be known’). What is it that makes some individuals and organisations seemingly inadequate to deal with foresight research?


The ability of an individual to manage complexity is a function of their cognitive processing and power (?, p.48). The corollary for an organisation is that through the interaction of its structure, processes and people it can generate an equivalent organisational ‘capacity’ to manage the complexity of its environment. After all, if organising doesn’t create a greater capacity for managing complexity then why bother to organise at all? The unstated assumption is that the cognitive capacity of individual’s working in concert must surely be greater than the capacity of any of the individuals alone.


Jacques describes four levels of decision complexity. First the complexity of concrete things, the complexity of doing. Second the abstraction of verbal variables that encompass the concrete things to be done. Third the abstraction of concepts by which certainty becomes uncertain and ambiguity is the norm. Last is the abstraction of the universals which encompass many of the third level concepts (?, p.55). Thus decision complexity is seen to increase as the nature of the decision becomes increasingly abstract and ambiguous. The premise of organisational hierarchy is, therefore, that senior decision makers require the cognitive power to process increasingly abstract and complex decisions. But do they?


While foresight research would be used at each of those levels of decision complexity the ma jority of foresight research would be at the third and fourth levels of abstraction (the abstraction of concepts and universals). Perhaps the inability of some individuals and organisations to deal with foresight research is due to the lack of the necessary cognitive capacity to deal with those levels of complexity? While cognitive capacity was not specifically mentioned as one of the top ten impediments found by the Global Lookout Panel, another factor was cited which is relevant.


In addition to the top ten factors highlighted before, the Global Lookout Panel also identified the following ‘moral impediments’ to foresight actions:


• Insufficient attention to the needs of future generations
• Caring about the wel lbeing of only one’s own group or nation
• Corruption of leaders and policy makers
• Greed and self-centredness
• Acceptance of inequities
• Lack of a holistic view of the world
• Lack of respect for the environment
• Lack of compassion and tolerance for others (?, p.179).


These factors were seen as additional to the top ten factors. The research did not draw a direct connection between these ‘moral’ impediments and those organisational problems. I would argue that the existence of any of the moral impediments would reduce the impulse to act to almost zero. Irrespective of the extent of planning, resourcing and skilling available, if some of those moral perspectives were held by the decision maker why would they feel a need to act at all? What would be motivating them to do so? Addressing these moral impediments could well impact upon most, if not all, of the top ten factors that were found to limit the adoption of foresight research. I would further argue that no sustainable change to the organisational stance towards foresight research is possible unless there is adequate moral development in the individuals of that organisation. It is the purpose of this paper, therefore, to investigate the impact of moral thought upon the individual and organisational capability to understand and act upon foresight research. That is not to say that only ‘good’ people can do this and thereby demonise those people and organisations that might find foresight research of little relevance to how they live their lives and run their organisations. Rather, this paper will explain how the psychological development of moral thought might explain this.


pdf Resolving the Moral Impediments to Foresight Action.pdf