Foresight by design: Supporting strategic innovation with systematic futures thinking

Joern Henning Buehring, Jeanne Liedtka (Other)

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review


This conceptual paper draws attention to the growing need for organisations to meet the demands of rapid social and technological changes, and to practice foresight at the front end of innovation. While most product or service innovations focus on meeting current market needs (typically over a 1-3-year time period), there is still precious little real understanding in how designers and interdisciplinary innovation practitioners learn to navigate disruption, make sense of complexity, and deal with uncertainty of social and technology environments over the medium and long-term time horizon (5-15 years). Acknowledging the complexity of socio-technological systems, stakeholders in design innovation have to work together to envisage higher order, more innovative, and sustainable solutions that will yield the greatest economic and social benefits (Buhring, 2017; Heskett, 2009; Hines & Zindato, 2016; Liedtka, 1998; Meroni, 2008; Slaughter, 2002). In this paper, we review the strategy, design and foresight literature at both macro and micro levels, with emphasis placed on how interdisciplinary innovation practitioners may engage with the future in order to explore the challenges to decision-making they highlight (Ferraro & Cassiman, 2014). From this review, and a series of facilitators identified by our own design and foresight field research, critical perspectives are presented that illustrate how foresight by design can inform decision-makers of the innovation challenges and opportunities that will emerge over the medium and longer-term time horizon. Consequently, optimising foresight as a core capability may strengthen the organisation’s sense of direction and its capacity to innovate in the face of social and technological uncertainties (Kock, Heising, & Gemünden, 2015). Derived from these insights, we set out some hypotheses around the broader role of the strategic design conversation to include systematic futures thinking as a common language and transformational approach to producing visions of preferable and desirable futures. Practicing systematic futures thinking, we argue, will foster sustainable innovations by detecting early warning signals of change and giving deeper insights into the phenomenon behind these signs. Subsequently, applying systematic futures thinking could become concrete knowledge and processes for strategic innovations in product and service industries. This conceptual approach, moreover, will offer important considerations that may help overcome weaknesses in the alignment of visions between strategy, innovation and foresight functions, which is the purpose of design thinking and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTo get there: designing together
Place of PublicationParis
PublisherCumulus (International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media)
ISBN (Electronic)978-2-9565440-0-5
ISBN (Print)978-2-9565440-0-5
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • strategic innovation
  • foresight
  • futures thinking
  • managing uncertainty
  • preferable futures


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