Transformation is the Future: Organizational, Governmental, and Social Transformation for a World of Crisis, Complexity, and Hyper Change.
Frank Spencer and Yvette Montero Salvatico
The following article is an insider’s look at the TFSX approach to foresight — empowering the creation of transformation and higher-order purpose within organizations. The world needs leaders and organizations that have the courage to embrace the necessary change. We hope you join us on this journey!
It’s been more than 20 years now.
Twenty-plus years of helping companies to develop long-term “organizational relevance”; to create environments of future-readiness; to canvas the trends and insights that paint a picture of the impending threats, uncertain possibilities, and the “next big thing” that lays just over the horizon.
One thing that stands out after all those years is that Strategic Planning, Agile Innovation, or even the idea of Future-Proofing our businesses and operating environments will not produce a thriving and generative “Sustainable Enterprise.” (Sustainable enterprise is an organization that can anticipate and meet the needs of present and future generations of customers and stakeholders through creating and innovating new business strategies and activities that accelerate positive social change, protect and preserve environmental integrity, while enhancing business performance. — Liangrong Zu, Sustainable Enterprise Development)
When the upkeep of cynical pursuits of efficiency, productivity and optimization is perceived as more reasonable than the care of elder and next generations — and the ongoing nurture of the way life makes life — then the infected system and the epistemology that upholds it dissolve. — Nora Bateson
Honestly, the need to let go of our outdated, antiquated and noxious practices that don’t produce an aspirational pathway for our organizations, governments and society at-large is long overdue.
However, if we stopped there, you would not get a clear picture of how we have approached foresight in our client engagements for the past 20 years.
When it comes to working with a firm or consultancy that offers foresight services such as trend scouting, scenario building, strategy development, innovation development, competency building, or any other futures-oriented outcome, there are a number of excellent choices across the world. Some focus largely on corporate foresight and the prevailing desire to “future-proof” the organizations of their clients. Others work with governments and NGOs to plot the various possibilities surrounding local, regional and geopolitical decisions and actions. Many even help educational institutions, social initiatives and creative communities to imagine better futures through envisioning the obstacles that must be avoided and aspirational futures that could be pursued. Our team has spent the last two decades doing all of these things as well, working alongside some of the world’s largest companies and initiatives to employ foresight for more resilient and adaptive strategy, innovation and organizational readiness. Over that time, we have also had the chance to repeatedly contemplate and reframe our approach, more accurately designing a philosophy and process that fits our original culture, purpose and passion.
We can honestly say that, on every one of our engagements, the goal has always been to move organizations and the people inside of them to see that “There’s Got To Be A Better Way.” They may have hired our firm so that they could understand the unfolding obstacles and opportunities for their business model, as well as how to leverage those for greater reach and revenue. Nevertheless, we were always clear about what it is that we do, and why our objective is so important for our clients and partners.
Question: “But, WAIT,” you might say. “Shouldn’t a foresight firm focus on helping organizations navigate the unfolding landscape of change, leverage the emerging trends, identify threats and opportunities, map multiple possibilities, and develop future-ready strategies? Not every organization is interested in transformation.”
Answer: “They should be, because transformation is a critical, organic, and integral element of all living and relevant organizations and organisms.
If that’s news to you, then let’s define what we mean by transformation.
Through the lens of modern business practices, organizations have been viewed as machines that formulaically produce products, services or outcomes. To best serve shareholders, they must become as straightforwardly and simplistically efficient as possible, eliminating any threat that would cause a disruption to the business model, the replication of traditional practices, and the upward climb in financial returns. In reality, organizations are constantly changing, living organisms where different parts — people, strategies, culture, ideas, friction, actions, environments, etc. — are interwoven. In such a landscape, change will always be emergent.
Instead of embracing that reality and learning how it can produce vibrant outcomes, we have constructed tactics that attempt to suppress the inherent volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is a part of any living entity. Our attempt to resist change has been damaging to our social, economic and environmental dynamics, if not devastating. What we need is a revolution of thinking about the nature of organizations, and how they can exist and thrive as part of a holistically healthy world.
In every dynamic entity, transformation — change, renewal and growth — should be the guiding light for every other element, process and operation. If we believe that organizational practices such as strategy, innovation, change management, people development, objectives, results, etc. direct the life-cycle of the organization — and live in the hope that when necessary change does appear that it will cause as little interference as possible — then we will blindly stumble toward the future, at best. Since natural systems are continually moving toward transformation, the aim of our foresight efforts should not be focused on managing our risk profile through navigating trends or seeking to secure the long-term success of our status quo by exposing threats. Rather, our primary focus should be to cultivate our organizational, governmental and societal pathways to transformation. We need to identify the higher order purpose that is latent inside the DNA of our vision and mission of our unfolding organizational journey. Only then can we create robust and rigorous strategies that empower us to aim for that natural growth, untapped potential and unique expression. Transformation should be placed at the top of the funnel, dictating the incremental steps and actions that we take on our journey toward our organizational North Star or higher order purpose (most organizations probably don’t actually know what that means for them). We need to think transformationally, and then act incrementally. We’ve had it backwards!
That mission — to empower the strategy, innovation, development and more within an organization through the cultivation of pathways of transformation — means that our expertise not only helps companies to create organizational success, but to also build internal and external environments that are inherently people-focused and planet-caring, bringing life to everything they touch. This intertwined vision of people, planet and profit has been known as the “Triple Bottom Line” for the past 30 years, but many organizations are still struggling to comprehend and adopt that concept. In most cases, they can’t articulate why it’s important, and that has everything to do with how they relate to transformation in the context of their organizational culture, model and operations.
A great segue on our journey to understanding the importance of creating pathways of transformation within our organizations is a brief examination of the idea known as the Triple Bottom Line. For those not familiar with the idea that organizations excel when they embrace a holistic perspective — or simply as a refresher — Kelsey Miller offers an explanation in the Harvard Business School Online:
“The triple bottom line is a business concept that posits firms should commit to measuring their social and environmental impact — in addition to their financial performance — rather than solely focusing on generating profit, or the standard ‘bottom line.’ It can be broken down into ‘three Ps’: profit, people, and the planet.”
Sustainable Management at the University of Wisconsin had this to say about the importance of TBL to businesses and governments:
“The triple bottom line illustrates that if an organization is only focused on profit — ignoring people and the planet — it cannot account for the full cost of doing business and thus will not succeed long term.”
In an article from 2017, Alan R. Earls noted that,
“The triple bottom line — combining financial, environmental and social metrics — and corporate social responsibility are business success strategies, and we can go beyond them to create the world we want… I think it is increasingly obvious, based not least on a mounting volume of recent academic studies, that companies which focus on (these types of) factors are, all other things being equal, likely to outperform over time… Indeed, one meta-analysis of studies that looked at the relationship of corporate performance and social and environmental sustainability found that 80% of such practices positively influenced stock prices and 88% showed better operational performance.”
So, companies can greatly benefit if they see themselves holistic protectors and providers rather than insulated, short-term revenue producers. Fantastic! Now, read the words of John Elkington, the individual who coined the term Triple Bottom Line. He certainly saw this point of view as being much more than a way create smarter and more ethical organizations.
“But the TBL wasn’t designed to be just an accounting tool. It was supposed to provoke deeper thinking about capitalism and its future, but many early adopters understood the concept as a balancing act, adopting a trade-off mentality… TBL’s stated goal from the outset was system change — pushing toward the transformation of capitalism. It was never supposed to be just an accounting system. It was originally intended as a genetic code, a triple helix of change for tomorrow’s capitalism, with a focus on breakthrough change, disruption, asymmetric growth… Together with its subsequent variants, the TBL concept has been captured and diluted by accountants and reporting consultants… Fundamentally, we have a hard-wired cultural problem in business, finance and markets. Whereas CEOs, CFOs, and other corporate leaders move heaven and earth to ensure that they hit their profit targets, the same is very rarely true of their people and planet targets. Clearly, the Triple Bottom Line has failed to bury the single bottom line paradigm.”
(It should be noted that some have begun replacing the word “profit” in the Triple Bottom Line model with the term “prosperity,” signaling a broader shift toward holistic health that includes the entire ecosystem impacted by an organization — stakeholders, communities, resources — rather than only the myopic metric of shareholder return. Some have even called for a Quadruple Bottom Line that includes the idea of purpose as integral to a thrivable future, and it’s this last addition that we will address momentarily as being the most important of all.)
The reason that companies struggle so much with the idea of a holistic perspective in a world where climate and social justice are obviously our most pressing concerns is due to the fact that we live in a global system where short-term thinking that produces quick wins and big profits has been elevated over every other metric of success. In reality, such a perspective is highly detrimental to organizational, governmental and social thrivability, and companies that adopt a “profit-over-all” culture are essentially cutting off their nose to spit their face. Most organizations don’t have the ability to embrace a beneficial concept such as TBL, or any other holistic concept that would make them more dynamic by every conceivable metric, because they have failed to grasp the most important driving force in every living organism — transformation.
As we stated earlier, an organization’s higher order purpose — its life-giving, regenerative North Star — is identified through its pathway of transformation. The ever-unfolding “why” of an organization is what cultivates its “who, what, when and where.” When an organization’s “why” is stagnant, it will increasingly struggle to answer its “who, what, when, and where,” and that leads to an endless search for “bright shiny” tactics that address the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous changes all around them. They begin scrambling to remain relevant in a VUCA world because they failed to embrace their own transformative pathway that leverages the growing complexity in all living environments. They strategize, scrum and systematize in hopes of maintaining their historical lineage without realizing that relevance comes naturally through the transformative pathway toward the organization’s higher order purpose.
Now you have a better understanding of why we unabashedly promote transformational mindsets, development and actions over the future-proofing of organizational legacy and success, and why we are so passionate about positioning our work in this way. This also gives you a pretty good idea about the type of organizations that this approach attracts, who gets excited about working with us, and what exactly our clients are trying to build and achieve. Lastly, it’s the reason that so many people describe partnering with us as a “transformational experience” rather than simply being a client engagement.
We understand that this approach may not be for everyone — even though we believe it should be, and hope that it will become the norm. Those who grasp the need to discover pathways of transformation rather than simply navigating changing landscapes, responding to trends or being ready for whatever future unfolds are the people who are empowering their organizations and communities to thrive in a world of exponential change and complexity — and to ensure that the world around them thrives as well. That is the “better way” that creates a brighter future for everyone!
Frank W. Spencer IV
Co-Founder and Creative Director
In 2009, Frank founded Kedge — a global foresight, innovation, and strategic design firm which pioneered TFSX. Throughout his career, Frank has worked as a leadership coach and developer with entrepreneurs, social communities, networking initiatives, and SMEs, helping them in areas such as development, innovation, and networking. He holds a Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight from Regent University. With a strong background in both business and academic foresight, Frank was the creator and lead instructor of The Futures Institute: Shaping The Future Now at Duke University’s Talent identification Program Institute, teaching students to use Futures Thinking and foresight to develop transformative solutions to grand challenges (2010, 2011). He has worked on Strategic Foresight projects for companies such as Kraft, Mars, Marriott, and The Walt Disney Company. He is a prolific speaker, having delivered presentations to groups and conferences around the globe for over the last 20 years. Frank holds memberships in World Futures Society (WFS) and Association for Professional Futurists (APF).
Yvette Montero Salvatico
Co-Founder and Managing Director
Holding a bachelor’s degree in Finance and an MBA from the University of Florida, Yvette has over 15 years of corporate experience with large, multi-national firms such as Kimberly-Clark and The Walt Disney Company. Before co-founding TFSX, she served as the Lead Futurist at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, leading the effort to establish the Future Workforce Insights division, identifying future workforce trends, leveraging foresight models and techniques, assessing potential threats and impacts, and unearthing exciting opportunities for the organization. With membership in organizations such as Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM), Association for Talent Development (ATD), Association for Professional Futurists (APF), and World Futures Society (WFS), Yvette is an experienced and polished speaker, leadership coach and consultant, addressing large audiences and organizations around the globe on topics such as business policy, talent, work, diversity, career management, strategy, innovation, foresight, and Futures Thinking. She has been listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the 50 Leading Female Futurists in the world.
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