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Design & Foresight: New Strategic Tools for the Boardroom

October 9, 2020



Kicking off the fall season for the McMaster Collaboratorium webinar series, Dr. Michael Hartmann was joined by Karel Vrendenburg, Director, Global Design Leadership & Academic Programs at IBM and Marianne Jackson, C-Suite Executive (CHRO) and Executive Consultant for public and non-public organizations in Silicon Valley and Institute for the Future board member to examine how design methodologies and strategic foresight tools can help boards identify future scenarios, analyze the impacts of those futures on their key stakeholders, and make appropriate decisions today.

Session Highlights

Design is what visual creators do. Design thinking is a set of practices – Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test – that anyone can use to deeply understand a problem and collaborate together to very deeply and quickly get insight into challenges that need to be addressed. Explore the framework here.

In a time of uncertainty, boards need to get a deep understanding of the challenges from all stakeholders and consider the short and long term impacts of any decisions. The risks of a wrong decision are severe, so having a methodology by which challenges are explored and decisions are validated is important.

Context matters. The expectations are growing for the boardroom – what are the contemporary responsibilities of the board? Value creation for the long term, risk management, reputation management and transparency around social responsibility are the new expectations.

Organizational development is not a job, it’s a skill that a whole lot of people need to have. Challenge the procedures and composition of the board and review board agendas. Strategic foresight and design thinking have merged – foresight, insight and action.

Design thinking is a collaborative process bringing in stakeholder input, not a focus group, but in a democratization process that creates and leverages relationships long term for the best outcomes of strategic foresight.

Scenario planning is evolving. The future should be looked at from what is possible, what is probable, and what is desired in order to plan effectively. The friction between what needs to be managed immediately and what needs to be managed in the future is much higher than it has ever been.

Foresight involves learning to identify the signals that need to be explored and incorporated into planning. The future is now, and just dealing with the needs of today is taking up most of the cycles reactively. Boards need to use their imagination in order to learn how to identify signals and signs in the market, in the stakeholders, and in the organization.

Practicing the methods for design thinking and strategic foresight is key to making the right plans and decisions. Education and training for leaders needs to include these methodologies to gain the skills and tools needed to be prepared and successful, regardless of the rate of change.

Even the way that leaders have learned to categorize, frame, and filter ideas and processes needs to be disrupted to prevent the ability to think more broadly to address complex issues.

Many board members may not be able to take a new direction, and organizations cannot afford to remain status quo, so board composition and education may need to be evaluated against the requirement to absorb, get comfortable and thrive with change.

Directors need to improve their abilities in design thinking and strategic foresight in order to truly fulfill their duties in changing times. Probe deeper and become a fearless futurist.

Watch key messages from the webinar here.