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Practical Foresight: Picture Your Environment

Developing actionable foresight has never been more important.  Fortunately, practical foresight is attainable by every leadership team out there.  One of the most important determinants of success, and today one of the more challenging given the pressures on daily life, is simply doing the small things again and again.  Each of the five practical foresight activities we outline are small things that require some attention today to pay off big in the future.

Kids coloring with crayons
Got a messy mental model of your industry, too?

One of these, and the second of our practical foresight activities, is building a common picture of your organization’s operating environment.  We want your team to have the same big picture mental model of your industry or operating space.  What are the major elements or variables that define your environment?  How do they relate to one another?  How would you draw that picture for new hires?


  1. First, block an hour to hit this with your team.  If you can devote more time, then great, do that.  If not, then let’s at least do the hour.  Assemble your team and spend the first ten minutes just brain dumping on what people think the major elements of your environment are.  Stakeholders, key resources, defining assumptions, etc… This is about how your team understands the world it operates in.  Don’t stress too much about “getting it right” according to any particular school of thought.

  2. Second, how do these elements relate to each other?  If you’re running this in a one-hour meeting, then do about 30 minutes here.  What influences what?  What drives what?  How does information or resources flow from one thing to another?  Don’t be afraid to scribble this quickly, iterating and redrawing things a lot.  It’s OK to be messy right now.

  3. Third, step back and see what you all have got.  For the last 20 minutes (of a one-hour session), work on ironing it out.  Clean it up, thinking about three things:

    1. Readability: other people need to be able to look at the picture and quickly start to make sense of it.

    2. Simplicity: this is meant to be a simple model, not a hyper-accurate simulation.  You want the minimum complexity necessary to tell the core story.

    3. Loops: are there one or more important feedback loops?  In most spaces, there are feedback loops that explain the recurring behaviors of stakeholders.


This picture can end up looking however you need it to look to represent your team’s shared mental model of the operating environment.  At VFS, we tend to build system diagram-y type pictures.  We’re fans of systems thinking and complexity, so we lean that way.  The important thing is to visualize your environment in a way that captures your key assumptions and can be used within your organization to talk about the environment and to think about how it might change in the future.


Next time we will look at the third practical activity, leading your team through discussions of short vs. long-term trends.


For additional support standing up your discussions about the future, then reach out to us today.

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