Let’s Talk About Why We Need Strategic Foresight With Dr. Peter Bishop

In this short interview, Dr. Bishop discusses his chapter in The Future of Business, and explains the importance of teaching foresight – after all, the future is where we’re all headed.

What is the focus of your chapter in The Future of Business?

The world is changing faster and becoming more complex at increasing rates. As a result, the ways we used to deal with the future are no longer adequate. In the old days, most people could be certain that a change was taking place before responding to that change. Today, if you wait you’re late. Strategic Foresight and Futures Studies is the emerging discipline that takes these changes into account. It handles the uncertainty inherent in anticipating change to come rather than waiting for it to occur by describing the future, not as a prediction, but as a set of plausible scenarios. The field is growing with now some dozen academic programs around the world, about the same number of certificate programs and an untold number of keynote speeches and corporate seminars devoted to the topic. My chapter, “Critical Foresight Skills” in The Future of Business, describes the growth of these training opportunities and documents where they are occurring.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I am a retired Associate Professor of Foresight at the University of Houston where I managed the Master of Science program in Foresight there. Since then I founded and am running an NGO whose mission is to introduce futures thinking to classes and schools around the world.

What future-oriented topics or issues are you focusing on currently?

The future of education is a topic of interest to business people and citizens alike throughout the world. As the world is changing so must the education that young people receive to be successful and happy in that world. Unfortunately, education has not changed much to meet this challenge. As opposed to the more innovative institutions in society, like business, the military or professional sports, educators have considered themselves the keepers and the transmitters of knowledge, tradition and culture, an inherently backward-looking mission. Not that the past is unimportant. Far from it. But the future is also important, and education has paid scant attention to that part of the narrative that makes up the human story. Most people think of the time and change as ending in the present, something called The End of History Illusion. It’s like reading a novel and stopping in the middle. No, the story of human civilization will go on. Not that we can tell definitely what that story will be in the future, but we can get some idea of what it might be. And more importantly, education should equip students with the ability to anticipate and influence the changes to come, not just leave that to their own devices.

If you could bring about one change in the world to ensure a positive future – what would it be?

Academic disciplines have a beginning, just like any other institution in society. The ancient Greeks were particularly inventive in establishing many of the disciplines we take for granted today – history, geometry, and a form of physics. We may be in a similar position today with the study of the future. Before the Enlightenment, religion was in charge of our knowledge of the future supplemented by a healthy dose of superstition. The modern world improved on that approach by introducing the concepts of mathematical extrapolation and prediction. That approach served us well when the world was more orderly, but simple extrapolation does not do justice to a complex and increasingly novel future. Nevertheless, we are still equipping our students to deal with the future in this century with the tools from the last few centuries. My recommended change, therefore, is that every student in the world takes at least one required course on foresight and futures studies in order to handle change in the world that they will live in rather than the world that their parents and teachers did.