Orienteering with the Futures Map

Petri Tapio

Futures map is a metaphor introduced by a Finnish futurist Osmo Kuusi. He sees the future as a terrain including many possible paths. The futurist’s task is to define plausible alternative paths in this terrain, the scenarios. The paths can concern business branch development options for a client company, societal sector development for public administration, or, for example, career options in personal life management for individuals. I here illustrate the problematics concentrating on energy issues in businesses.

Including strategic thinking and especially the backcasting concept to the metaphor of futures map brings corporate foresight process close to the orienteering sport. In backcasting, the actor sets a goal where to strive for and finds out alternative scenarios, how to get to the goal. Similarly in orienteering, you set a goal, a control on the map, where you wish to run as efficiently as possible. You figure out the alternative routes to the control and try to think beforehand which of them is the fastest. Uncertainty is inherent in decision-making as you do not know for sure which alternative is the fastest.

You also need to consider the risks in strategic foresight as well as orienteering – should you make a short route and stroll through a swamp taking the risk that it is so wet that you actually lose time with the shortcut. Or are you playing it safe and take the easy route of longer distance but easy terrain. For example, are you investing to new technology that promises to solve your production problems or use existing technology more efficiently?

According to my personal experience in the Turku School of Economics orienteering team some controls are really difficult to find. There are four possible reasons for the difficulty:

1) The terrain is heavy, for example having consecutive controls on top of two hills and between them a deep valley. For example reducing energy consumption of a firm is a task that requires lot of work rather than simple tricks. In this case consistency and diligence are called for.

2) The control is difficult to find as it is in a terrain where you see very little forward and get easily lost. For example you wish to take into account all relevant aspects affecting the company’s economic, social and ecological sustainability. In this case it is important to check the map for a clear location and use the compass to move forward.

3) Your skills are not trained well enough, that is you know where to go, but do not know how to get there. This is the case for example when there are no experts of energy saving in the company. This just requires better education in futures research methods.

4) You are lost in the first place. For example you have no quantitative information of energy consumption in the firm that could be used in the strategic decision-making process. In this case you should turn back to the last place where you knew for sure where you were. Think calmly, get the information you need and only then move forward.

When orienteering, you need a compass to know the directions. It does not tell you location but it tells you which way north and other compass points are. I think the parallel for a compass in orienteering with the futures map is consciousness of your values. Ethics form the basis for responsible business (see Matti Minkkinen’s earlier blog post).

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The author is Professor in Futures Research and responsible for the postgraduate studies of Futures Studies in the Doctoral Programme of Turku School of Economics.

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Linturi, Hannu & Rubin, Anita (2014) Metodi, metafora ja tulevaisuuskartta: osa 1. http://www.ebarometri.fi/metodi-metafora-ja-tulevaisuuskartta/

Robinson, John B. (1990) Futures under glass: a recipe for people who hate to predict. Futures 22(8): 820–842. doi:10.1016/0016-3287(90)90018-D http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0016-3287(90)90018-D

 Picture from Jukolan viesti 2016 orienteering relay © Riku Levälehto

 

  

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