Forecasting with hindsight: Backcasting
There are a number of different gurus that tell us to live in the present – this technique reframes our present against a desired future. It involves setting a vision for a shared, preferred future state, considering current state and determining ways to move forward. It is differentiated from planning exercises that focus on the ‘next step’ as opposed to the step in the preferred direction. For this reason it is well suited to introducing radical change and creative approaches.
Key activities: Agree future vision. Explore current state. Determine paths towards desired state. Create agreed plan.
Useful for: It is useful as a technique to expand thinking beyond the current issues and existing solutions. It has a power in uniting diverse interest groups towards an agreed outcome. It allows for a scenario-based exploration of what the future could hold which supports active participation from multiple stakeholders and risk management. It is particularly useful in circumstances where the future is unpredictable and subject to multiple influences.
Examples: Used by Amory Lovins in the development of his “Soft path” approach to energy management. http://www.rmi.org/rmi/Library%2FE77-01_EnergyStrategyRoadNotTaken
Brainstorming is an innovation technique widely used within business today. Tom Kelly (brother of David Kelly, founder of IDEO) argues that brainstorming is not used enough, and that when it is, is not executed in the best way. His book, ‘The Art of Innovation’, offers a seven-step guide to brainstorming excellence and a further six ways to kill brainstorming. Top tips include:
• Start with the right question: Brainstorms should stem from a tight but open-ended question – not one that includes a solution.
• Assemble the right team: A brainstorm team should be multi-skilled with diverse personalities, expertise and experiences, and include members new to the problem who offer a fresh eye and perspective.
• Keep it snappy: The brainstorm time slot should be short – 60 minutes is the optimum length beyond which the session is often unproductive.
• Get the space right: Kelly stresses that brainstorms should be held in the everyday office environment and not taken off-site, as this links the concept of being creative to a non-work environment.
• Dust off your drawing skills: Move away from just writing down brainstorm ideas, and use rudimentary diagrams, sketches and models too – a picture after all can say 1,000 words.
Both Sir Ken Robinson and Peter Simms in their respective books, ‘Out Of Our Minds’ and ‘Little Bets’ promote the use of ‘plussing’ for collaboration to create the best innovative solutions possible. This technique is described by Simms as ‘‘building upon and improving ideas without using judgmental language – using ‘yes, and’ not ‘no, but’. This, according to Tom Kelly author of ‘The Art of Innovation’, helps to maintain group energy level, and ensures an environment in which ‘wild ideas’ flow freely. Kelly adds that banning company hierarchy also aids this process.