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Tamara Carleton on strategic foresight

Watch Alex Cowan interview Tamara Carleton, CEO of the Innovation Leadership Board, on strategic foresight.
Joining us is Dr. Tamara Carleton. Tamara, thanks for joining us. Glad to be here, Thank you for inviting me. Tamara is the CEO of the Innovation Leadership Board, and she works very closely with the strategy in Foresight Lab at Stanford University. We’re here to talk about strategic foresight. If you have an existing product, how do you think through your customer and your product in three, five, or 10 years. And so, Tamara, how do you do that? Well, foresight gives you a way to think about the future with a little bit more intention. And the future horizon depends on what your team objectives are, any particular vision, as well as the industry or space that you’re working in.
So, if you’re a car company, that’s typically six to seven years. If you’re doing aerospace work, well, that’s anywhere for 40 to 50 years, so a much longer range. Yeah. For startup teams it’s often what to do next week, and how to get started, so we really look broadly across the spectrum. And what’s an example of how you do this? Well, let me share one of the tools that we use with thousands of teams around the world at Stanford, and with government groups, Navy Special Forces in the U.S, and such. So this is a tool we call context maps and you can see here that I’m drawing eight dimensions. Uh-huh.
The reason we call it a context map is simply to provide context and understand the big picture for what you’re trying to do. It’s an excellent tool to get started with if you’re exploring the new opportunity space. But, if you’re a team working on a large problem you can use this tool to revisit what your group thinks is important and also use it as a way to capture a snapshot at the end of a particular engagement. So, let’s talk about a topic that I think is near and dear to both of us, Alex. Okay. Online learning. So, as you develop context and talk about this with your team or the two of us you can identify eight salient dimensions.
What are the important topics for understanding your particular space, and particularly the future opportunity for what you’re trying to do? So, you might say, oh, well, clearly the channel, the format, you can make a note and say, oh it’s online. So, you’ve got to consider the content. Then there’s something around the material. What’s the substance? Now, as we talk about adults, you also want to understand, well, what’s in it for me. Their particular objective, something that I want to try and aim for, and gain a value for my learning. Well, let’s say your group continues talking. You might say, what are some of the benefits? Flexibility, you can shift with online or on site.
There’s still a value to coming on campus to a place like Stanford and Silicon Valley for learning. And so one might say, well, how are you going to do it. Now I’m going to put down methodology. If you talk to a faculty member, they use fancy words like pedagogy; but what’s the structure for the learning. Is there a particular rhythm to how you’re learning? And so, one might say, well, don’t forget about the people involved. You’ve got an instructor potentially or a coach. There’s the students, the learners, and then you start to fill in the rest. Someone says, oh, well, for learning, and particularly online, in adults and professional development there’s a cost involved. Not just financial.
Could be time as well - there is other tradeoffs that they need to consider. And then, there might be another element. Sometimes you could leave it strategically blank as an invitation to take it to another team to say, what am I missing from this big picture. Alex, if I can put you on the spot, what might you add from your work? I would say career. I think that, as people live longer and the world changes faster, my daughter might have two or three careers over the course of her lifetime and online learning is a great way to help her transition and learn new skills. Perfect.
And, actually, I will put down both skills and career, careers in the plural, to say, this is part of what, you know, you want to look at. The reason concept value works is this gives you a fast view on what you’re trying to understand and you realize it’s not a bulleted list. This is a tool that complements brainstorming. It complements mind mapping. This lets you have both enough, but not too little, so that you get a handle on what you’re trying to do. And this is one of the tools that we feature in our playbook for strategic foresight innovation.
Alex, you know this is available free as a how to guide for teams so something that could be added to the toolkit and the skill set, what people are already using as part of planning and anticipating tomorrow. One of the things we like to close with it is a top 3 list. What do you think are the top three things that a product manager should know about the value and the capabilities of strategic foresight? Goodness. Well, some of the things that come to my mind. One, is that strategic foresight is partly a mindset. It’s a willingness to invent and build the future that you’d like to live in.
So, it’s very easy to accept the exciting Hollywood movies where everything is a dystopia. It makes for better drama. But in the world we live in and the reason you, we teach these tools, Alex, and why people come to EPA and to Stanford for this material, is to create the world that they want and that is the importance of having the right mindset. Second important thing, I think is also having the skill set to go in hand. The context map is one of the skills and tools that you can use to develop. There’s a whole set of other tools that you can use that are very lightweight, easy to start with. Wonderful for working in a team structure.
And so, this is another way to get a jump ahead and understand how to plan even today’s chaos, and embracing ambiguity by using these types of tools. And then, I would say, the third is to really be collaborative, take a partner approach. This is something that you can definitely do by yourself and solo but I think is much more effective in engaging when you bring in other people. And so, not only have your team, you know, take turns holding your white board marker but, you know, as I mentioned leave one of these blank. Ask somebody from the community, your customer group, well, what’s the perspective we’re not considering.
In fact, one of the exercises that I do with others is say, now, you’ve done your team view. Do a second context map but do it from the perspective of one of the user groups that gets impacted, policymaker, a new hire, a consumer, and then, suddenly, you realize maybe not as much overlaps as it should or could. And that’s an important lesson to think about in terms of strategic foresight either today or in terms of tomorrow. That’s great. Some great tips on managing the future. Thanks, Tamara, for joining us. Thank you.

In this video, Alex interviews Tamara Carleton, CEO of the Innovation Leadership Board, on strategic foresight. Dr. Carleton introduces a tool called context maps where the user draws in eight dimensions to provide context and understand the big picture of what you’re trying to do. This concept can be applied to your team, to the customer, or to any participant in the business model. On your own whiteboard or blank piece of paper, construct a context map to help you focus on a product idea.

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