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Brian Wagner

Is Foresight Scientific?

May 14, 2024

Foresight: Intuition or Science?

How systematic methodology and analysis help us anticipate possible futures.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20.” It’s easy to look back and see how events unfolded, connect the dots, and understand the causal relationships that led us to our current reality. But what about foresight? Is it possible to look forward with the same level of clarity? Can we predict the future? The short answer is no, we cannot predict the future with absolute certainty. However, the practice of foresight allows us to anticipate a range of possible futures and analyze them systematically. By doing so, we can make better decisions in the present that will positively impact our future. Over the past 20 years, PTIS has led a triannual, precompetitive program focused on the Future of Packaging with dozens of leading companies, helping guide their strategies, plans and investments.

What is Foresight?

Foresight involves identifying and analyzing trends, drivers of change, and potential future scenarios. The goal of foresight is not to predict a single future, but rather to explore multiple plausible futures and their implications. According to Andy Hines, Foresight Program Coordinator at the University of Houston, “Foresight is the study of change that uses a systematic methodology to explore the future to make better decisions today by helping us move us toward the futures we want and avoid those we don’t, and to ultimately build confidence in the future by building our capacity to avoid surprise!”

It’s Not Forecasting

Foresight is often confused with forecasting, but they are not the same thing. Forecasting is the process of making predictions about the future based on past and present data. It assumes that the future will be a continuation of the past and present. Foresight, on the other hand, acknowledges that the future is uncertain and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including emerging trends, disruptive technologies, and unexpected events.

The Foresight Methodology

The foresight methodology typically involves four key steps:

1. Scanning: This step involves identifying and monitoring trends, drivers of change, and weak signals that could impact the future. This can include everything from technological advancements to social and cultural shifts.

2. Analysis: Once the scanning is complete, the next step is to analyze the data and identify patterns and potential future scenarios. This involves looking for connections between trends and drivers of change and considering how they might interact to create different futures.

3. Interpretation: The interpretation step involves making sense of the potential future scenarios and considering their implications. This includes identifying opportunities and challenges associated with each scenario and considering how they might impact individuals, organizations, and society as a whole.

4. Strategy: The final step is to develop strategies and action plans based on the insights gained from the foresight process. This can include identifying strategic priorities, developing contingency plans, and creating roadmaps for innovation and growth.

The Benefits of Foresight

The benefits of foresight are numerous. By anticipating potential future scenarios, organizations can make better decisions in the present that will position them for success in the future. Foresight can also help organizations identify emerging opportunities and threats and develop strategies to capitalize on or mitigate them. Foresight can also foster a culture of innovation and adaptability within organizations. By constantly scanning the horizon for new trends and possibilities, organizations can stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive in an ever-changing world.

Foresight in Practice

Foresight is used in a variety of contexts, from business and government to academia and non-profit organizations. In the business world, foresight is often used to inform strategic planning, product development, and risk management. Governments use foresight to develop long-term policies and plan for future challenges such as climate change and demographic shifts.

One example of foresight in practice is Shell’s scenario planning process. Since the 1970s, Shell has used scenario planning to explore potential futures and inform its strategic decision-making. By considering a range of possible futures, Shell has been able to anticipate and adapt to major disruptions such as the oil price shocks of the 1970s and the rise of renewable energy in recent years.

PTIS and the Future of Packaging team have correctly anticipated several future scenarios and provided leadership for several sponsors in preparing for their futures. PTIS program leaders, Mike Richmond and Todd Bukowski, recall, “Retailer transformation and birth of Sustainability for packaging in 2004, the significant rise of cost of oil in 2007 and packaging implications, the importance and growth of “Big Data” in 2010 and later examples like Nontraditional collaborations for packaging in 2016 and emergence of AI and AGI in 2019 and 2022.”


While foresight may seem like a daunting task, it is an essential skill in today’s rapidly changing world. By embracing foresight and making it a regular part of their decision-making process, organizations can stay ahead of the curve and thrive in the face of uncertainty. So, is foresight intuition or science? The answer is both. It requires a combination of creative thinking and rigorous analysis, but the payoff is well worth the effort.

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