Using the 1-2 Punch of Provocative Forecasts and Strategic Questions

Provocative forecasts are a surefire way to help people think about how different the future might be, especially when they are followed by strategic questions the organization must answer.

Provocative forecasts test our assumptions about issues that could be important to the future direction of our organization, profession, field or industry.  They are not predictions; however, they are plausible outcomes based on an analysis of current trends and issues. Leaders and decision makers use them as tools for anticipatory learning and strategic thinking. They help jumpstart strategic conversations that help us better understand the future.

Strategic questions are designed to help us examine a critical choice about the future. Quite often they address areas of great change and uncertainty where the decisions are not simple and yet leaders must choose the best answer to set the direction for their organization.  

Writing provocative forecasts is an art form.  One or two sentences have to synthesize and crystallize several trends and issues uncovered through futures research. They have to be succinct because their power comes from using them in all kinds of learning experiences from reports to surveys to discussions.  They are the provocative headline that will draw people into deeper reflection and discussion on very complex and challenging situations.

Likewise, good strategic questions have to be tailored to probe the challenges and opportunities the organization might face. For associations, two questions might be needed for a 1-2 punch for each provocative forecast. One that probes the choices members’ organizations might face and another that probes the strategic options of the association.

Here’s an example of a forecast on resiliency and innovation that demonstrates how this 1-2 punch can work in an anticipatory learning process. This forecast is the 7th forecast in a set Signature i developed to help an association test its assumptions about the future of postsecondary education. The first six forecasts explore significant changes in the field that create increasing complexity. This forecast introduces the idea of a collaborative network of innovation. The strategic questions probe the obvious implications and potential opportunities for the members and the association to collaborate in new ways.    

Resiliency and Innovation. In the face of increasing complexity, schools and universities will collaborate with a network of innovators to identify changes, adapt to new challenges, and create resilient solutions.

  • What strategies are you using to thrive in a challenging world that requires a faster rate of change?
  • What can this association do to help members become more resilient and innovative?

The forecast can be discussed in many ways. Is it likely to happen? What evidence or examples do we see of this happening now? How significant is this change to our culture and practices? Can we describe what this change might look like?  What are the implications for us?

The strategic questions help inform an important choice.  The first question prompts association members to think about how they are identifying changes and learning to respond to them. The second question asks them what the association should do and might point to a new role or suite of programs and services the association could pursue.

As a 1-2 punch to learning about the future, provocative forecasts are a great tool for helping people see what is changing.  Strategic questions are the right tool to frame a strategic conversation to explore future opportunities.