strategic design & innovation

Interrogating Megatrends to Develop Strategic Foresight

digital & 4IR technologies strategic foresight strategy

Developing strategic foresight is a management discipline that uses structured methods, frameworks and processes to formalise our innate and intuitive ability to think about the future. It is very much more established in Europe than in other markets but, as referenced in and creating your future through strategic foresight and storytelling, the arrival of the COVID pandemic illustrated the imperative for organisations across the globe to develop future foresight as strategic capability.

Unlike forecasting - which aims to predict a single future - strategic foresight draws upon a range of quantitative and qualitative tools to tap into several different emergent futures that vary in their level of uncertainty. The use of the plural, ‘futures’, is intentional. The goal is to illuminate a range of possible futures that might eventuate, then identify a subset that are the most plausible, and within that the most probable.

Innovative companies create rather than react to the future. Informed by strategic foresight, they make strategic choices, pursue initiatives and communicate compelling narratives that increase the chances that their preferred future might play out.

developing strategic foresight requires keeping a weather eye on megatrends

A key input for developing foresight is maintaining a weather eye on the megatrends at play in the external environment. Megatrends are trajectories of change that are likely to result in substantial and transformative impact on individuals, organisations and societies. They typically unfold over years or decades and occur at the intersection of multiple interconnected trends that are narrower in scope.

Megatrends are underpinned by changes across the intersecting elements of our ‘macro’ environment: geopolitical, economic, environmental, social, demographic, and technological. Unpredicted events can lead to significant acceleration or delay in how they play out – such as in the rapid adoption of a range of digital technologies from ecommerce to telehealth driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By way of example, Australia’s leading scientific research organisation, CSIRO has just released a comprehensive review of the megatrends, first outlined a decade earlier, that are impacting the way Australian citizenry will live over the longer term. We’ve distilled the seven megatrends identified in the CSIRO report below:

  1. Climate Change: More extreme, more intensely turbulent driving…
    • climate refugees and mass migration
    • upgrade of a range of critical infrastructure to higher tolerances
    • change in viable agricultural and aquacultural practices
  2. Fracturing Geopolitics: Competing ideologies polarizing populations and power driving…
    • bifurcation of global trading blocks, knowledge transfer and digital infrastructures
    • increased expenditure on traditional and cybersecurity defences
    • focus on sovereign resilience in critical materials, manufacturing and supply chains
  3. Sustainable Resource Management: Leaner, cleaner, greener driving…
    • advanced manufacturing, recycling and regeneration
    • development of a range of synthetic biotechnologies
    • energy transition towards net zero
  4. Human Health Risk Management: Demographic, social and economic impacts driving…
    • greater focus on preventative and personalised medicines
    • holistic understanding of wellbeing including mental health and sleep
    • increasing healthcare costs alongside ageing populations and generic antimicrobial resistance
  5. Data & Digital Technologies: Next generation(4IR) technologies driving…
    • shift from industrial to smart manufacturing (so-called industry 4.0)
    • hybridisation of work, redistribution of the workforce and development of the metaverse
    • decentralisation of control of data, information, currencies and contracts
  6. Artificial Intelligence: A spectrum of transformational technologies driving…
    • unprecedented speed, quality and breadth of research and discovery across disciplines
    • automation of a wide range of technical, and increasingly cognitive, tasks
    • a new focus on the ethics and regulation of AI and the field of cybernetics
  7. Human Inequality: a re-evaluation of the outcomes of shareholder capitalism driving…
    • focus on all stakeholders, and on ESG alongside economic measures
    • innovation in models for work and living alongside declining housing affordability
    • imperative for life-long learning alongside accelerating human task replacement by AI

CSIRO use these global megatrends to identify areas where they will focus their resources to solve the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology. Companies from start-ups and scale ups to large corporations, can adopt them as a blueprint to develop their own strategic foresight, and their capability to anticipate, respond and adapt to assure their long- term prosperity in the face of the threats and opportunities that these megatrends may present.

If you’re curious to dive deeper into understanding the megatrends that will impact your business, what aspects of your business may be at risk and how to prioritise exploration of where your most promising future growth opportunities might lie, get in contact.

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