LIFT08// Foresight: William Cockayne

Following Scott Smith, William Cockayne of Change Research spoke at LIFT08 about foresight tools and approaches, as well as an interesting perspective on people’s roles in foresight, the ambiguity curve of innovation and product development, and the relationships in between. my notes + drawings are below, and link to the video is here (as with scott’s talk, i would embed the video on my blog, or link to it specifically, however i don’t use the edit CSS option for this blog, and the site is in flash.. so no direct link…)

i thought his talk was interesting, especially in the context of teams, r+d processes and personal accountability (though the nature of innovation he frames i think is a bit outdated), and took some time to recreate a few images from my photos. my comments and ideas about what works and, more to the point, what doesn’t work with this process follows.

he does not speak towards futurism, but to foresight, and his research interests lie in the roles people play that bridge foresight to innovation.

for companies that are building something that is one or two product cycles out – 10 yrs or so
1 product cycle: they are making now
2 product cycles: they are strategizing today
3 product cycles : ???

ambiguity curve
ambiguity comes prior to uncertainty
prepare, sense, form, analyze, integrate, develop
continually retaining ambiguity throughout the process

moar while teaching this at stanford, one of the biggest hurdles he found – throughout disciplines – is the difficulty in awareness of one’s strengths – where you fit throughout a process/cycle of innovation and then how to maximize your strengths in that role. most people don’t pick their career til their 35-45 (really?)

so with all this ambiguity in r+d, in foresight, in innovation and design, they began building out: what is design, what is foresight? trying to find connections between foresight and design.

  • foresight – prepare and sense
  • research – form and analyze
  • design – integrate and develop

the first slide looks at what william has identified as the 4 most common roles that people exhibit. what i like about this is that it indicates how people can extend and develop their current repertoire across disciplines.

however, i don’t think that we are stuck to be in one role – i think that at times i can be each of these roles, and that it depends on the context of the situation and the people i’m working with. for example, while at the beal i took on leadership roles that required visioning and having both feet on the ground with legs 30’000 feet high, as well as roles where a singular expertise in one area was required for the task. i’m interested to see where the messy areas are, and how they intermingle. maybe this is a reflection of the professional or creative schizophrenia that many people i know seem to experience…

julian has an interesting article from last year that speaks to the nature of trans- or post-disciplinary.

where do YOU fit?


the next slide looks at the ambiguity curve and where each of these roles is ideally suited. however, in a team context, each role can shift to complement each others’ strengths and weaknesses. while i really appreciate the clarity of process that this image communicates, i wonder sometimes about the dangers of this linear progression… and that it still reflects to a certain degree older models of innovation and innovation funnels, especially their problematic aspects, and especially in relation to bigger companies.

it assumes that ambiguity goes down as the product cycle continues, which isn’t necessarily accurate. i think that what often happens is that a company makes decisions based on necessity, for the sake of metrics, of continuation and maintenance of funding and justification of resources, and not on a context that acknowledges the benefit of ambiguity throughout the entire process – it encourages inquiry throughout, takes into consideration external forces/trends/changes, and ensures that communication is a top priority.

this staged, siloed process doesn’t allow for communication between teams that work in different teams, that managing the transitions between stages is fiendishly difficult (something that william mentioned), and that there doesn’t need to be individuals from the beginning at the end and vice versa, but that the stages themselves might need to be rethought and rapidly iterated to ensure agility in the development of a concept, maximizing the ability to troubleshoot and adapt to changing circumstances/resources/markets/etc, and not assuming that qualities of foresight aren’t still required in design (more on this below)…


finally, the last slide looks at how this might play out in a company environment, where different roles and teams come together throughout the process in different ways. the informal process refers to a the initial meetings or plenaries, where engagement towards the idea begins. the formal process could be thought of as the beginnings to codify ideas, research and data. the corporate process reflects the nature of product deliverables and implementation. in all, this slide reflects the transition from soft to hard ideation. and again, while i appreciate the tidiness of it, i wonder about alternatives… where’s the agility? the rapid prototyping and iteration throughout?


and one last thing that william spoke about… the stage that comes before preparing and foresight…the wallow – looking for the future, not ready to start the projects… we developed this a bit at the beal. i think this is the point where one is seeking and scanning, but in a super intuitive way and not in relation to any formal project or initiative. i think this is the space where your passion and interests guide you towards knowledge and experiences that can play a crucial role later – the space of free inquiry and play.


Filed under Uncategorized

4 responses to “LIFT08// Foresight: William Cockayne

  1. Pingback: whirligigs « shot from the hip

  2. Pingback: Remarkk! » LIFT: William Cockayne, “Foresight to Innovation”

  3. Pingback: Pasta&Vinegar » Blog Archive » Foresight session at LIFT08

  4. Pingback: Ambidextrous Blog » I’ve got 10-faced dice: Role playing in design

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s