Strategic Thinking Articles

Getting to the Meat - Considering Implications

This is the third article in a series on "How to be a Futurist"

We’ve all been there.  We’re in college, undergrad or grad, and there’s a term paper due.  You’ve done all the research, spending weeks on end in the library and on the Internet gathering all the crucial information.  Now comes the tough part – synthesizing all that data into a meaningful report that will dazzle the professor.  Easier said than done, right?  Scanning the macro environment to pick up on emerging issues is a lot like gathering data for a term paper.  Eventually, you need to pull together the research and analyze where there is possible overlap in the STEEP categories that may signal the beginnings of a trend.  The task can seem daunting, but the key to finding the best approach to use in analyzing the data garnered from scanning is knowing the answers to the following questions:

  • What will the information be used for?
  • Who will use the information and in what form?
  • What type of data has been collected and how will it be converted to useful information?

Cross Impact Analysis

This is a common forecasting tool that measures the correlation between variables.  It is used to identify how developments in one STEEP area will affect those in another as well as the strength of that influence and whether it makes the outcome more or less likely.  The major benefit of using cross impact analysis is the ability to show how one situation impacts another. 

Cross impact analysis can look at two or more variables and involves working with a matrix to establish causality between variables.  Each pair of variables is analyzed for degree of impact (high, medium, low) and direction of impact (positive or negative).  For example, let’s say you find information on a new law Congress may pass that would affect sales of goods on the Internet.  Your members are major manufacturers of goods sold online.  Their target market is teenagers, who shop almost solely on the Internet.  It would be prudent to understand how the affect of the law, if passed by Congress, would affect the way members’ goods are sold to their key demographic.  Cross impact analysis is an efficient quantitative way to see those connections.

Futuring Wheel

This technique is mostly used in brainstorming sessions and is similar to nominal group technique.  A small group produces a list of future possibilities based on the scanning data.  The group then eliminates those that are highly unlikely or too much like the present.  The remaining items are then developed into three to six subtopics, and those subtopics are divided into three to six more topics.  The idea is to identify the related areas and assess potential impact.  This method is not as widely used as cross impact analysis, but is an effective qualitative way to identify problems and related events. 


This article was published in the November 23, 2001 issue of Association Trends magazine

Amy Brown is the Chief Executive Officer of the Forbes Group.

The central problem of our age is how to act decisively in the absence of certainty

Bertrand Russell

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