Why Systems Thinking is Critical for Effective Roadmapping

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The Core Function of Futurists

The core function of any Futurist is to study the future, to help clients, whether internal or external, to develop roadmaps from the present point, to a long-term future point in time. That is the core and most important purpose of future studies.

Basically, the benefit of Future Studies is establishing where we are headed, what are we headed towards, why are we heading there, how are we going to get there and by when are we likely to get there. Establishing answers to questions raised in the course of the study of the future helps us in roadmapping for any number of purposes, whether product life-cycles, technological development, paradigm shifts to climate change.

The importance of Roadmapping

The purpose of roadmapping is simple. Take for an anology, if you set out from home to head to a new place you have never been to before, without a map or an address, you might eventually get there, but the process may not be very efficient and the purpose of setting out to get there may actually be defeated, because you do not get there in time, or even in the right state or shape as a result of what you encounter along the way, while you are lost.

Basically, we engage in roadmapping, to chart or plan our moves through the unknown, which is the time ahead, something that has not yet occured and is uncertain, to develop a locus of control and establish a degree of preparedness for what may come; through planned or rehearsed scenarios, contingencies, probabilities, focus points & areas, a structured course of actions, calculated risks, concurrence, guiding vision, strategies, tactics and so on. In other words, we’ll know somewhat at each step through time, on what to do or how to act, until we get to the destination point which is the intended future.

The critical need for Systems Thinking

Considering that the core purpose of futuring and therefore Futurists, functionally, is roadmapping, which is about charting into uncharted territory of time ahead, which has not yet occurred and is unseen, systems thinking is rendered an indispensible process that cannot be compromised.

Systems Thinking is the basic understanding of everything or all elements in a system, whether the ecosystem, the environment, the region, the country, the economy, the market, the industry or the organisation, cross-impact or affect each other as part of a whole.

To illustrate the above, when you make a change in one department of an organisation, the whole organisation is impacted or affected, in terms of how it functions and operates as a whole, or how the interactions between that concerned department and the other departments it interacts with change. Principally one needs to be aware, that nothing happens in isolation. There is always a cause, effect and consequence.

To roadmap effectively, we need to consider all factors, or rather, especially, the effects of each factor, on all the other factors. To buffer against uncertainties, it is necessary to build rigourous contingencies into a roadmap, to ensure it is worthwhile, and for this various scenarios need to be identified and planned for. It is to identify the possible scenarios, the most likely or most important ones in probability, that requires the application of systems thinking, to ensure that no critical scenario is overlooked or left standing behind a blind spot, for if so, then that scenario remains a probable threat to either derail or render a roadmap redundant or irrelevant, one that does not achieve its purpose effectively or efficiently.

How Futurist or Foresight Methodologies work

No known methodology for the purpose of Strategic Foresight or Future Studies can be effectively employed on its own for valuable foresight or futuring. Every known methodology in the scope or subject area needs to be used as part of a combination to produce valuable data, information, insight, prediction or forecast.

In the case of Roadmapping as a core function of futuring, Systems Thinking is a critical component, as a begining step or even trait. This is because all other methodologies or steps applied will be in vein, if the Systems Thinking process is inadequately applied, to fully absorb the appreciation of various cross-impact possibilities or probabilities, into the greater roadmapping process.

The implication of the importance of Systems Thinking

Given the primary purpose of Futurists or in other words perhaps Strategic Foresight practioners, to their clients, and the critical nature of importance Systems Thinking holds in that function which is the primary purpose, it effectively is a core and critical requisite competency that all Futurists and Strategic Foresight practitioners need to have.

To prevent a silo effect, any Futurist needs to have effective and adequate competency to comprehend all factors through broad understanding and investigative ability. It is to ensure this prevention, that the competency in Systems Thinking becomes critical.

About Harish Shah

Harish Shah is Singapore’s pioneering local born Commercial Futurist and Sole-Proprietor of a Futurist Management Consulting practice, Stratserv Consultancy, which has fast become synonymous with Strategic Foresight in Southeast Asia. Harish developed a passion for studying, understanding, appreciating and embracing the future while he was an undergraduate at The University of Western Australia (UWA) in Perth, pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce degree with Triple Majors in Human Resource Management, Industrial Relations and Management along with Marketing electives. After graduating from UWA with a distinction average in each of his three majors, Harish returned to his native Singapore, where his formal education stopped, but his passion for the study of the future continued to grow. Besides being a Futurist, Harish is a seasoned strategic negotiator and accustomed to complex negotiations. He is a powerful speaker and presenter with a subtle sense of humour. Prior to entrepreneurship, Harish has worked as a HR consultant to some of the world’s top corporations, has sold industrial outsourcing services, managed learning & development, and he has been involved in managing rehabilitative work with a governmental organisation.
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