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Strategic foresight: learn how to make sense and use the futures in uncertain times

  • Enseignant(s):  
  • Titre en français: Prospective stratégique : comprendre, saisir et interpréter les futurs afin de s’orienter dans la complexité d’un monde changeant
  • Cours donné en: anglais
  • Crédits ECTS:
  • Horaire: Semestre d'automne 2022-2023, 2.0h. de cours (moyenne hebdomadaire)
      WARNING :   this is an old version of the syllabus, old versions contain   OBSOLETE   data.
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The future is not a linear continuation of the present — it is exponential and complex. The future does not exist in the present, but we can study a range of images of futures to be prepared for the unknown and the uncertain. This course prepares you to gain a better grasp of why and how you imagine the future, what futures you imagine, and use the futures as your ace up the sleeve.

You are going to be in the world of work by 2030 and a part of you will be among the leaders in 2040. The world is going to be so tremendously different in 2040 that you need to anticipate the changes and understand the forces under which the world and extended worlds transform. Most of the time “black swans” are just a failure of our ability to open up our aperture and thinking broadly enough. We can in no way forecast, but we can widen up our view of futures for effective foresight, so that “we should have known better” is not part of your conversation.

As future leaders, you will need to anticipate the “next big thing” and learn to consider a wide range of risks and opportunities and their impacts (first-, second-, third-order consequences).

We have plenty of example in recent business history of how apparently invincible incumbents in large fields were unable to even see the disruption coming (Nokia), or did not have the courage to understand the potential of disrupting their own business (Kodak). COVID-19 was a warm-up lap for the incoming disruptions lying ahead, which will be caused by technology convergence, global warming, reorganizing geopolitical forces, social instability, and human skills obsolescence — just to name some. You will need to be ready to harness the positive forces and the opportunities lying beyond uncertainty. That’s what you will learn in this course: skills to move your thinking towards the unthinkable.

In this course you will learn a very particular set of skills. A part of it is good for your employer and your career: as much as we hear a lot about data literacy, digital literacy, game literacy, there is another crucial literacy for the 21st century: futures literacy. Futures Literacy enhances our ability to sense, and make sense of, our ever‑changing world. It helps us to prepare for an uncertain future marked by rapid technological advancements. Futures literacy and anticipation have been strong in demand as a new emerging internal strategic service to C-suite and Board level.

Another part of it is good for you as an individual who will have to navigate the ever-changing world of work. Based on current challenges, Futures Literacy will allow you to learn about the future with more serenity, understanding options and ways ahead, to design a range of your life trajectories.

Anticipation and foresight have been widely used in the world of defense — this is a precious occasion to learn a part of them for business and management and see what others don’t; beat your own and your organization’s biases, and Christensen’s innovator’s dilemma; and avoid being laser-focused on one linear future, on just one ultra-narrow field of view.

Don’t let foreseeable events arrive as surprises: anticipate and prepare for them. Don’t let possible futures slip through your hands: identify and exploit them. Don’t let your biases prevent you from seeing beyond what is currently plausible: recognize and use them as compasses in the most uncharted waters you can sail.

Learn to think like a futurist — and design your positive futures.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, the student must be able to:

  • Develop scanning, futuring and visioning skills as in the Foresight Competency Model
  • Recommend best foresight tools and techniques to achieve given requirements
  • Distinguish biases and resistances in exploring/futuring/visioning futures
  • Critique alternative pathways to use biases as compass
  • Assess anticipatory postures against the “gold standard” Futures Literacy Framework

Transversal skills

  • Self-development: Assess one's own level of skill acquisition, and plan their on-going learning goals
  • Self-awareness: Reduce discomfort in reaching the contact-boundary with yourself and the other
  • Sustainable communication: Rephrase real-time conversation and unglue linguistic facts from interpretation
  • Human touch: Communicate effectively with professionals from other disciplines

Teaching methods

  • Lecture
  • Class discussions
  • Experiential activities

Expected student activities

  • Participate in process of knowledge creation
  • Discuss learnings from class
  • Write essays or reports


This class will give you the fundamentals about strategic foresight and its relevance for business strategy and new business models; anticipatory systems and processes and why we need or want to anticipate events and trends to improve decisions in the present; futures literacy as an emerging science helping us to sense and make sense of futures; and futures studies as the discipline guiding us in this process of exploration and creation.


  • Why do we imagine the future when we try to decide better?
  • If there are pockets of futures in the present, why cannot we perceive them?
  • Why some of them seem more relevant than others to us in a given context?

Whether you are a defense expert or an SME leader, or if you’re planning your own career, we all strive to anticipate and use futures – for instance using scenarios – to improve the way we can reach our objectives. We will discuss what drives us to do so.


  • What accounts for the origin and the structure of the futures we imagine? Are there cultural or generational differences when imagine and use futures?
  • What systems and processes exist that render actionable the dimension of futures?
  • When we use the futures, what futures are we using?

We are all exposed to a myriad of dystopian futures rather than utopian futures; think of Hollywood movies — 200 end-of-the-world movies for less than a dozen paradise-on-earth. We will discuss why we are drawn to the dark and how to illuminate the broadest scope of possibilities – all the possibilities which future young talents ought to seize and exploit. We will give a name to our biases that box us into this “dark” narrative and move past that, learning how to use our biases as compass through alternative pathways, enhancing one of our most precious skills — imagination.


  • The world has gone from complicated to complex. In this ever-evolving environment making sense of the “now” is already a challenge. How can we start to make sense of the “then”?
  • How can we gain a better grasp of the why and especially the how we imagine the future?
  • How can we explore futures without feeling lost? What techniques and methodologies do we have to build our strategic foresight toolbox?

We will learn and practice methods, drawn from the Defense world, to imagine the future depending on the final objective, the desired outcome, and the means at hand. We will discover numerous foresight tools, regularly used in strategic foresight in business or public policy environments, among which scenario planning, road-mapping, horizon scanning to name only a few. We will learn how to embrace complexity rather than just lamenting it as some cursed and inescapable source of “wicked problems”.


Anticipation, Foresight, Futures Literacy, Futures Studies, Technological Revolution, Horizon Scanning, Megatrends, Scenario Planning, Cognitive Bias, Resistances, Contact-Boundary, Future of Work, Future of Education, Future of Security, Future of Cities


Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI)



  • Wilkinson, A. Strategic Foresight Primer. European Political Strategy Centre. 2017.
  • Scoblic, J. P. Learning from the Future. How to make robust strategy in times of deep uncertainty. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2020.
  • Miller, R (ed.). Transforming the Future. Anticipation in the 21st Century. Routledge, 2018.
  • Chappuis, I. and Rizzo, G. HR Futures 2030. A Design for Future-Ready Human Resources. Routledge, 2021.
  • Rizzo, G. “Disruptive Technologies in Military Affairs”. In Rugge, F. (ed.), The Global Race for Technological Superiority. ISPI and Brookings Institution, 2019.


1ère tentative

Sans examen (cf. modalités)  

Group task: Essay

  • Participants write a short essay/reflection paper of 900 (±10%) words in mixed groups of up to three students.
  • Essays are the result of the application of one or more foresight techniques seen in class (for instance an “over the horizon” report, a discussion on trends scouted, a scenario developed). It will be sought-after the capacity to turn trends, and their first-, second-, and higher-order consequences, into potential opportunities. The courage to look beyond the horizon, think beyond the plausible and create the unexpected.
  • Essay writing makes use of the learnings from the class applied in a novel and original way.

The best essays will be featured on the Swiss Center for Positive Futures website and students involved will be credited.

Group work: Unfolding Positive Futures

  • Participants write a “foresight report” made of three parts of each 900 words (±10%) on a topic either suggested during the lecture or proposed from the group and agreed upon by the teacher, in mixed groups of circa 12-15 students (the exact number will be defined depending on the number of course participants). The three parts of the report are:
    • Scanning – explore signals of change or indicators of futures linked with the topic. Run literature reviews and several interviews with experts.
    • Futuring – identify a baseline and alternative futures and produce scenarios
    • Visioning – develop and commit to a preferred future to focus all future actions

The best reports will be featured on the Swiss Center for Positive Futures website and students involved will be credited.

Individual work: My Positive Futures

  • Each participant produces their own “Positive Futures” work. This work is about 1200 words long (±10%) and requires from them to:
    • Identify his or her own biases and resistances in their exploring/futuring/visioning of futures
    • Use their biases as a compass to identify new pathways surpassing them and enabling a new view of the future
    • Describe their preferable future
  • The output can either be a written essay or a video (a recording of a presentation, or a standalone speech, or else that has 1200 (±10%) words of spoken content).

Your total grade is the average of all grades you receive.


Sans examen (cf. modalités)  

Students resubmit their individual work.

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