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Exploring value creation from corporate-foresight activities

Rene Rohrbeck*
Department of Business Administration, Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, Haslegardsvej 10, 8210 Aarhus V, Denmark
1. Introduction
When critically reviewing the success of futures research, the guiding question usually is: Have the predictions been
accurate? Even though there is no doubt that answering this question is important and can be expected to help in improving
methods and practices, I argue that another question has so far been largely ignored. That question is: Did our futures
research create any value?
This question is particularly pressing in a corporate context where futures research often remains on the sideline, not
integrated with operational and strategic management [1,2]. One reason for that is the lack of understanding what the
purpose of futures research should be in a corporate context [3]. Another reason is that value contribution is difcult to
measure and often only measurable in the long run [4].
It has been argued in the past that, when aiming to assess value creation from futures research, we have to consider
various kinds of return on investment, including knowledge creation, diffusion and absorption [4] to enhance decision making
[5], producing adequate responses to change [6] such as creating new products or product categories [7,8], enhancing strategic
planning [9,10], facilitating the acquisition of strategic resources [11], and triggering and moderating strategic discussions
[1214]. In addition, corporate foresight activities may also contribute value in initially unintended ways such as using the
created future outlook for communication with investors [15].
This article aims to contribute to the understanding of value creation from corporate foresight activities and link it to
methods and practices. This will be pursued rst by a literature analysis that establishes potential value creation. In addition
to corporate foresight literature, the focus will be on strategic- and innovation-management literature. One focus in
strategic-management literature is on dynamic capabilities and the knowledge-based view. In the second part, empirical
data from 20 case studies will be used to assess whether potential value contributions can be found in practice and link
observed value contribution to methods and practices of corporate foresight.
Futures 44 (2012) 440452
A R T I C L E I N F O
Article history:
Available online 27 March 2012
A B S T R A C T
This paper looks at value creation from corporate futures research. Through a literature
review, potential value creation is identied. This serves as guidance for an empirical
investigation in which value creation is observed and linked to methods and practices.
Using data from20 case studies, three examples of value creation are discussed in detail. In
addition, cross-case analysis allowed me to identify four success criteria for corporate
foresight activities: (1) foresighters committed to creating value, (2) participation of
internal stakeholders, (3) analysis that follows a systemic logic, and (4) methods and
processes that are tailored to companies needs. The paper concludes with the
recommendation to take a dynamic-capabilities perspective on future research into
corporate foresight.
2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +45 871 64929; fax: +45 871 50201.
E-mail address: rrohr@asb.dk.
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Futures
j o u r n al hom epage: ww w. el s evi er . co m/ l ocat e/ f u t u r es
0016-3287/$ see front matter 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2012.03.006
2. Literature review: the potential value contribution of corporate foresight
It has been argued before that research into foresight can prot from linkage to other management-research streams to
draw on a much larger pool of knowledge [16]. For that purpose, studying strategic- and innovation-management literature
is particularly insightful.
2.1. The strategic-management perspective
In the literature on strategic management, the resource-based view contributes to understanding how rms achieve and
maintain a competitive advantage [1719]. This view assumes that rms can be seen as systems of resources (human,
processes, practices, etc.) that are unique to the rm and may, in comparison to the systems of resources of other rms,
translate into a competitive advantage [2022].
The knowledge-based view assumes that the most important resource of a rm is the knowledge that it can access and
utilize to gain a competitive advantage [23]. In that respect, the rm functions as an integrator of knowledge [24] that resides
within its employees [25] or that the rm can acquire and integrate. Acquisition of knowledge can be done through
collaborating with other rms [24,26] or through boundary-spanning employees who channel knowledge into the company
[27,28]. Corporate foresight activities can be expected to play a dual role by identifying the critical knowledge that is needed
and laying the foundation for knowledge integration [11].
More recently, it has been suggested that in fast-changing environments, rms need to be able to renew their portfolio
of strategic resources when faced with external change [29]. This ability to adapt has been referred to as dynamic capability.
It is expected that this ability can be built to a large extent on current processes such as alliancing, product development, and
strategic decision-making [30].
Fig. 1 shows the process logic of dynamic capabilities that has been proposed by Helfat et al. [31]. They argue that the
adaptation of rms to a changing environment can be described in four phases: (1) search and selection of new resources, (2)
decision-making based on their adoption, (3) their conguration and deployment, and (4) their implementation (i.e., when the
new resources are put to use to attain a competitive advantage) [31:717]. This could then result in value creation in terms of
resilience against disruptive change and the ability to sustain a competitive advantage. More specically, Helfat et al.
propose ve value-creation categories: (1) survival of the rm that is faced by disruptive change, (2) rm growth,
(3) generation of additional revenue, (4) a competitive and sustained advantage, and (5) increased prot.
In this framework, it can be expected that corporate foresight activities contribute in multiple ways:
Identifying relevant external change [32] (potential value creation 1 = VC 1).
Helping in the search for new resources [9,15,33] (VC 2).
Enhancing decision-making by helping the interpretation task [34], providing strategic guidance [8,32,35] (VC 3).
Challenging dominant mental models [36,37] that may restrict the view of decision-makers [3840] (VC 4).
Moderating strategic discussions [1214] that allow the different parties within an organization to agree on future directions
(VC 5).
Supporting conguration, deployment, and implementation by ensuring sufcient participation [4143] and thus pre-empt
resistance to change [40,44], supporting a learning process for both top management and the organization as a whole
[45,46] (VC 6).
Fig. 1. Process model of dynamic capabilities.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 441
Corporate foresight or futures research in rms could therefore create value by supporting strategic renewal as well as
strengthening resilience against and responsiveness toward external change.
2.2. The innovation-management perspective
Scholars taking a dynamic view on rmsthus following the paradigm that a rm can adapt to changes in the
environmentimply that rms are able to repeatedly create innovations [47,48]. This allows them to maintain a product
portfolio that is competitive in the market. To that end, the rm uses resources that are at its disposal, either internal
resources, newly acquired resources [49], or complementary resources that it develops and pools with other rms to jointly
create innovations [5052].
The innovation-management literature also emphasizes the importance of individual actors, who can be inventors with
a technical background or managers who drive innovation. These individuals overcome internal boundaries [53], interpret
the environment, and develop and create an integrated understanding of the opportunity attached to and realization
potential of new innovations [54]. By building on their human capital [55,56], they are able to create new innovations
and generate rent for the rm [54,57].
From a foresight point of view, the research on disruptive innovations [58] is of particular interest. The challenge with
disruptive innovations comes from their systemic nature; i.e., they unfold their disruptive power only through interaction of
different factors which, assessed individually, would not seem threatening [59]. That means that corporate foresight should
utilize methodssuch as the scenario techniquethat can observe and interpret systemic effects [6062].
Radical innovations have been shown to be able to break away from path dependency and change the power distribution
in existing markets [63] or create new markets [64]. It has been noted that creating radical innovations is particularly
challenging for incumbent rms [65,66]. They need to break away from a particularly strong path dependency [67] and
overcome internal inertia [68]. This is difcult but in successful cases, this ability was often built by creating two different
organizations: one that is good at developing incremental innovations and maintaining their competitiveness in existing
markets and one that develops radical innovations to enter and create new markets [6870].
When linking innovation management with corporate foresight, three roles can be identied [8]:
The initiator role: corporate foresight could identify innovation potential and thus trigger and contribute to the renewal of
product portfolios (VC 7).
The strategist role: corporate foresight could help break away from path dependency by challenging dominant mental
models and providing a systematic view on emerging markets and help create radical innovations (VC 8).
The opponent role: corporate foresight could continuously monitor the external environment, inform about relevant
changesfor example, the emergence of disruptive technologyand thus ensure that new product-development projects
produce state-of-the-art products and are not overtaken by technological change, etc. (VC 9).
Corporate foresight could therefore create value by enhancing the ability of a rm to create superior incremental and
radical innovations that allow the rm to gain and maintain a competitive advantage.
2.3. Summary: the potential value contribution of strategic foresight
From the review of the literature on strategic and innovation management, we identied nine potential value creations
that can be structured in three groups (see Table 1). In the rst group, value contributions have been clustered that
contribute to the rms ability to respond to external changes with concrete actions. They prevent negative consequences
from threatening external changes and allow the company to grasp arising opportunities, for example by developing new
products that respond to new customer needs.
The second group consists of value creations that start and facilitate strategic discussions that enable the company to
respond to external change by inducing strategic corporate change such as IBMs change from being a vendor of information-
technology hardware to becoming a service company [71]. In order to achieve such discontinuous changes, it is crucial to
involve all key internal stakeholders with a particular focus on middle managers. They are often an important source of inertia,
particularly if the change involves cannibalization of old business segments that middle managers try to protect [72,73].
The third group directly reects the dynamic-capability perspective, where we would expect corporate foresight to add
value by identifying the need for new strategic resources. At the same time, the foresight activity may be able to play a role in
the acquisition of needed strategic resources.
3. Methodology
To assess if potential value creations can be found empirically, I use empirical data from 20 case studies. From 2006 to
2010, 120 interviews were conducted with corporate foresighters and internal stakeholders such as CEOs and executives in
charge of corporate development, innovation management, corporate strategy, and strategic controlling. This allowed for
collecting of detailed information on how corporate foresight activities are conducted (from the foresighters) and reliable
testimonies on the value created from these activities (from internal stakeholders).
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 442
To increase reliability, several data-collection instruments were used. The central data-collection instrument was semi-
structured interviews. Interviews are particularly useful when we want to investigate strategic phenomena with informants
needing to reect on their everyday practices [74]. In comparison to other instruments, interviews are also more exible and
particularly semi-structured interviews can be adapted to the context and knowledge of the respondent. The interviews
lasted from 1 to 2 h. In each interview, the research objective, research framework, and key concepts were described in order
to avoid misunderstanding.
In addition, interview templates were used to increase validity when capturing complex practices. The respondent lled in
these templates, which sometimes included drawings of process models or internal and external networks.
The case-study partners also made available internal documents that described processes or gave more information on
results from foresight activities. Multiple companies also shared internal documents that described what kind of innovations
or new business elds had been created on the basis of corporate foresight activities. These documents were collected and
crosschecked with the interviews of other respondents to reduce the risk that results were presented overly positive.
In some cases, companies also provided academic publications on their practices and impact thereof. These were primarily
used for clarication and understanding the logic behind their practices.
A particular methodological emphasis was put on reducing the single-informant bias that needs to be expected if only
foresighters are interviewed. The strategy to overcome this was to use three informant perspectives: the internal stakeholder
(CEO or manager of a functional of business unit), the corporate foresight-activity manager (who is responsible for the
foresight activity), and the foresighter (who is conducting the foresight activity).
The large amount of data gathered in the case studies posed a particular challenge. Overall, interview transcripts
accounted for more than 1600 pages and additional data from internal presentations, publications, and templates added
another 500 pages. To allow analyzing the activity and linking it to value contribution, the data had to be processed. For that
purpose, NVIVO 8 electronic text-analysis software was used. This software makes it possible to store any kind of document
and organize it by information source and content.
To prepare the data for analysis, it was coded; i.e., text sections were marked with keywords derived from the literature
analysis (with a code representing each value contribution) and keywords were dened while going through the data. This
coding allowed for navigating through the data from different cases studies that had been coded with the same keyword.
This made it easy to compare practices, methods, and value creation across cases.
In the process of interpreting the data and linking the practices to value contribution, the rst step was to check the
relevance of value contribution. In order to be judged as relevant, the value contribution had to be found in more than one
case. In the next step, it was identied which practice or method led to a particular value contribution. It was then assessed
whether the internal stakeholder also judged the contribution as valuable. In the next step, a deeper analysis was made of all
cases in which these requirements were met. The most relevant and representative of these cases will be discussed in the
next section.
4. Results
4.1. Trigger responses
In the rst group, we aimed to identify practices that scan the external environment and trigger responses. The
motivation for scanning the environment was conrmed by all participating companies. The executive in charge of corporate
innovation management of one rm emphasized that being a large company means that you are exposed to any number of
threats:
Table 1
potential value creation from corporate foresight.
Group Code Potential value contribution Description
Trigger responses VC 1 Identify relevant external change Based on a continuous scanning of the
environment, the corporate foresight
activity ensures that the rm responds
adequately to meet threats and grasp
opportunities.
VC 7 Trigger new innovation initiatives
VC 9 Challenge innovation development
to ensure state-of-the-art
Start and facilitate
strategic discussions to
enable strategic change
VC 4 Challenge and change existing
mental models
The corporate foresight activity motivates,
orchestrates, and drives strategic discussions
thatthrough active participation of relevant
internal stakeholderslay the foundation
for strategic corporate change.
VC 5 Moderate strategic discussions
VC 6 Promote participation
VC 8 Support breaking away from
path dependency
Identify and support
acquisition of needed
strategic resources
VC 2 Search resources The corporate foresight activity identies
resources that are needed to generate
a competitive advantage in changed
environments and support their acquisition
VC 3 Decide on development or
acquisition of resources
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 443
An issue is that, as a large tanker [tanker being a metaphor emphasizing the size and reaction speed of large
companies], you offer a large surface for attacks. [Therefore,] generating knowledge about threats is an objective. What
you do with this knowledge is a different issue.
In this quote, he also pointed to the challenge to succeed in triggering adequate responses. This rm has corporate
foresight activities that continuously scan for changes in customer behavior and needs as well as in the technological and
competitive environment. The results of these activities are disseminated as reports and through workshops. Responses are
not triggered by a process link, but through the individual initiative of readers of these reports who work in units such as
innovation management, risk management, or corporate development.
In another case study, the product-strategy manager of an automobile manufacturer pointed at the importance of
spotting trends that create new markets:
[One task of foresight is] the identication of relevant trends. For example, the issue LOHAS (lifestyle of health and
sustainability) and to start not with a concrete question, such as How do we change our products? But rather, How
big is the trend? How long will it last? How will it evolve? How do other industries respond? How do culture, politics,
architecture, or the gaming industry respond to the trend?
He emphasized that, particularly for large companies, it is crucial to focus on high-impact trends because producing a
response in a large company with a large internal structure will rapidly consume much effort and accumulate cost. One of
such long-term trends could be the trend toward health and sustainability, which has an impact on almost all aspects of life
from food to buildings, home appliances, and individual mobility.
4.1.1. Practice example: consumer scouting in the US market
To explore such trends, the company is running large scouting projects. For these projects, a team is recruited internally
from various divisions and its members are assigned full-time to the project. In the case-study example, a group of 23
employees moved for 18 months to a house in Malibu, California, United States. The aim of the scouting project was to
immerse them in the US market and scan for changes in consumer behavior and needs.
The team used a number of methods to capture and interpret trends including interviews and ethnographical methods
such as home stays. In these home stays, one employee would live for 2448 h as a member of the family. He would register
insights into consumer needs in a diary by making audio and video recordings. This made it possible to not only collect rich
data, but also deliver rst-hand evidence to decision-makers within the company.
Foresight insights were disseminated in the company through multiple channels (see Table 2). Firstly, all data were made
available on the intranet. This included diaries of the foresighters, reports, and audio and video clips. This information
broadcasting was complemented by monthly presentations at the companys main ofce, which attracted up to 1500
employees. To open a direct channel to top management, they were invited to become members of the steering committee
and get personal briengs. They were also invited to the United States to hold board meetings on the scouting premises.
These mechanisms for participation of internal stakeholders and dissemination of foresight insights created high
visibility of the foresight activity and were believed to have been one key success factor.
4.1.2. Value creation from consumer scouting in the US market
The primary goal of the project was to review and enhance the product portfolio and increase future sales in the US
market. By questioning the internal customers of the project, ve results from the foresight project were identied:
Table 2
mechanisms for facilitating communication and participation.
Mechanism Example
Integrate functional units into project team A company-wide selection process is used to form a project team that includes 23 employees
who represent all major functional units.
Internal customers gather real-life evidence Internal customers and stakeholders of foresight results are involved in the gathering of
information and thus obtain real customer testimonials and rsthand evidence.
Making information as tangible as possible To ensure that the future-related information is as tangible as possible, lead users, prototypes,
and interviews with lifestyle visionaries were captured and communicated through blogs,
pictures, short videos, and audio recordings.
Representations of future customers To communicate customer preferences and proles, real-world representations were composed
of 200 personal items that were typical of the consumer group.
Physical future living spaces In the project, future living spaces of the year 2020 were jointly built with 40 other companies
from various industries. These living spaces were used for corporate board meetings in order
to transfer insights about the future and make future scenarios perceivable.
Encourage word-of-mouth communication During the 18-month project, various company groups were invited to obtain rsthand insight
from lead users and thought leaders. This encouraged the sharing of information within the
whole company by word-of-mouth.
Using virtual communication channels The gathered insights were documented using videos, audio recordings, pictures, and written
reports. All information was made available through the intranet and updated regularly. The
daily blog had 6000 readers a month.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 444
Better understanding of the brand image in the market. For example, the project found out that the brand was perceived to
be female in the United States.
Restructured product-portfolio. For example, the analysis indicated that the current models were outside the so-called
sweet spots (i.e., market positions with a particularly high demand).
Introduction of three new car models that addressed emerging customer needs.
New engine strategy to address specic market needs.
Decision on local manufacturing site.
Overall, these ve results show that the foresight project had created value for the company. Although the project was
associated with high costs, it contributed value in multiple ways, including in ways which were outside the expectation
scope. Given the size of the market, already a small increase in sales (to which the foresight activity would have contributed
by providing valuable insights into emerging customer needs) would overcompensate the project costs and thus add value to
the company.
The insight into the brand image has also contributed to a change in the dominant mindset of top management.
Previously, they would follow the logic that a successful car in the German market should have the potential to become
successful in other markets as well. The foresight activity challenged and changed this mental model by showing that the
brand had attributes (e.g., homosexuality) that were different to the attributes in the home market.
Other rms run regular road-mapping exercises to identify and assess emerging trends from the market and technology
perspectives and start new product-development projects. An internal customer of such a project explained that:
We have worked extremely hard to identify white spaces. We have not identied disruptions, but we have started
many (R and D projects) and identied gaps.
In one example, a scenario analysis was used to identify the future of a certain product category in the year 2020. One of
the consistent scenarios was then used to identify the required technological capabilities, and roadmapping was used to plan
how to build the required capabilities.
There are two ways how innovation activities are triggered: (1) the direct way, with foresight results directly feeding into
the innovation process, or (2) the indirect way, in which information about the market opportunity and technological
realization potential is communicated to internal stakeholders without forcing them to start a new project.
One manager responsible for a foresight project that had a direct process link, explained:
We rst did an extrapolation to the year 2015. We then planned backwards and concluded: dear operational unit, in
that [technological] eld, you have nothing. And this led to the initiation of new R and D projects to bridge this gap.
In another company that uses the indirect approach, the responsible manager argued:
It is important to create images in the mind of the participants [the participants in the foresight project from the
divisional innovation-management units]. Not a clear, predened picture, but an image with intended fuzziness to
inspire them to create new, innovative activities.
In the case studies, both ways proved to be able to successfully trigger new innovation activities. Which way is the more
successful will depend on the rm, its corporate culture, and how it uses processes to drive its business.
For example, one rmits main ofce is in the United States and it has a corporate culture that emphasizes individual
initiativeexpects its business owners to use information from many sources, including foresight. But it would not accept
that a foresight project dened a response strategy. In that company, the outcome from foresight are reports that support
decision-making and plan possible scenarios, but it is ultimately the business owner who has to prove his strategy right by
delivering on results.
As opposed to this example, many rms in our sample with their main ofce in Germany worked with the
assumption that the best foresight methods will develop the best response strategy. The results from the foresight
activities in these companies are translated directly into follow-up activities such as R and D and corporate-
development projects.
4.2. Start and facilitate strategic discussions to enable strategic change
The primary differentiation between the value creations trigger responses and start and facilitate strategic discussions to
enable strategic change is the need of the latter for a broad discussion to ensure that all actors within the rm support the
strategic change. While, for example, innovation-management projects can be started by middle managers, strategic change
requires top management, middle management, and other relevant stakeholders to work together.
In the interviews, we found that there is a general awareness that disruptive external change leads to a situation in which
the rms existence is in danger. This quote from a foresight manager in a large multinational company was characteristic,
particularly for industries that had seen major disruptions in the past:
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 445
Naturally, we dont want to experience such dire surprises as those faced by Grundig and Agfa (both companies led
for bankruptcy following discontinuous change). It is important to learn from others to keep yourself from making the
same mistakes.
The example of IBMs strategic change from a hardware manufacturer to a service company was an often-quoted example
used by respondents to underline the strategic role of corporate foresight. There were various companies running foresight
activities to enter a new market that was either adjacent to their current business or in a totally new eld. This is particularly
important when the current market of the company is threatened. One manager of a business unit explained the importance
of constantly monitoring critical external factors:
I need to continuously monitor my basic assumptions. For instance, I recognize that (1) oil might be gone forever and
(2), we are doing nothing else; and then I can deduct that (3), I should extend my business along the value chain or
move into totally new business elds.
At the same time, disruptive change can also yield benets to enter or even create new markets, such as in the case of a
global energy-equipment company. The business-unit manager further explained that it is not uncommon for large
companies to fail to recognize an emerging and potentially attractive new business eld:
Because of our structure along market segments, emerging new markets may be overlooked. Because for me, it (the
market for CO
2
-capture and -storage) is not an oil and gas upstream topic, but it is also not a downstream topic, it is
also not a midstream topic, and it is also not a topic of industrial gas. And these are all our business segments.
Therefore, some markets may be overlooked and, in consequence, an organizational unit is needed that can take care of
markets that are not dealt with today.
4.2.1. Practice example: exploring and developing new business elds
One rm used an external foresight company to propose and investigate new promising business elds. That project was
divided into three steps (see Fig. 2).
The starting point of the exercise was the initiative of the executive board that was aimed at looking into new and
promising business elds. An external foresight consultancy was hired and asked to gather and provide information about
potential new business areas. This intelligence development was executed by gathering and using studies, internal eld
research, and interviews with leading experts.
Secondly, the consultants presented the results of the analysis, using as many visual presentation techniques as possible.
The visualization of the insights was judged to be success-critical and allowed the executive board to intellectually immerse
themselves in the new business eld. In the workshop, much room was left for discussion among the board members.
The consultants moderated the discussion. The board members were asked to judge, which internal assets could add to the
success if the company chose to enter the new business eld. The workshop resulted in an agreement that one of the business
elds was promising enough to be pursued further.
In the post-processing of the workshop, the consultancy developed an initial business concept that contained both the
market data and required internal assets.
Thirdly, the consultancy continued to work on studies that explored the new business eld. The scenario analysis was used
to understand possible developments in the eld and identify drivers and barriers. Building on the insights from the scenario
analysis, a roadmap was drawn up to plan milestones and critical developments that needed to be monitored or inuenced.
Fig. 2. Example of a strategic-foresight project that led to the creation of a new business unit.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 446
4.2.2. Value creation from exploring and developing new business elds
The outcome of the workshop served as basis for an internal project that included a feasibility study and planned initial
steps. The nal outcome was the founding of a new business unit that is contributing over 10 billion USD in revenue.
In another rm, a strategic-foresight project was conducted much more as an internal exercise relying mostly on internal
staff (see Fig. 3). It can be seen that this global rm used internal experts from different business units and workshops to
obtain a global perspective by integrating experts from the regions. In addition, external experts from various backgrounds
and perspectives were brought in to complement the market view.
To facilitate a strategic discussion, this company used a combination of scenario analysis and roadmapping that allowed
them to collect expert opinions in a structured fashion and interpret the data, taking into account interdependencies
between the inuencing factors.
An additional benet was that the internal experts that participated in the foresight activity became acquainted with the
reasoning behind the strategic change. One respondentwho served as an expertnoted that through his active
participation in the process, he felt a certain ownership of the results and would commit to helping with its implementation.
Through such participation, the company laid the basis for a successful implementation.
4.3. Identify and support acquisition of required strategic resources
In the third group, value contributions were combined that contributed to the adaptation process of a company toward
changes in the environment. In comparison to triggering responses, the identication and acquisition of strategic resources
is not directed at any concrete project or management objective, but concerns the renewal of the portfolio of strategic
resources. In comparison to starting and facilitating a strategic discussion to enable strategic change, it is concerned with the
direct mechanism that permits a company to nd and acquire strategic resources rather than with enabling the strategic
change.
4.3.1. Practice example: technology scouting and acquisition
The example for renewal of strategic resources was observed in the information- and communication-technology
industry. Three different case-study companies had independently created a foresight activity that was built on a network of
scouts. Through the scouting network, the companies collected information about technological change and supported the
acquisition of technologies to renew their technology portfolio (see Fig. 4).
In technology scouting, four groups can be differentiated: (1) the internal stakeholders who are, directly or indirectly,
sponsors and customers of the activity, (2) the technology foresight team that runs the network of scouts and serves as an
interface between the company and the scouts, (3) the scouts that can be internal employees or external consultants, and
(4) the external experts who are the source of information and also potentially the source of technologies.
Through the scouting network, the rm seeks to obtain early information about emerging technologies, particularly
disruptive technologies that may enable big innovative leaps. These technologies might represent a threat to the rm or an
opportunity to enhance its competitiveness.
Scouting networks have been described as having multiple advantages, including: (1) being able to collect rich (i.e.,
contextual) data, (2) being able to gather information in technological domains where the terminology is not stable (where a
keyword-based search in databases would produce inconclusive and incomplete results), and (3) being able to create a
channel that can be used for acquiring technologies.
Fig. 3. Internal and external experts contributing to the foresight project.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 447
4.3.2. Value contribution from technology scouting and acquisition
In all three case studies in which technology-scouting networks were operational, the rms could provide examples
where insights into technological change had produced early warnings about disruptive change. All rms also provided
examples of successful technology-sourcing activities. A corporate-strategy manager explained the role of the scouting
network (run by the foresight unit) in projects that assessed the need for new strategic resources:
In projects in which we look at specic topics and the start-ups and companies in that eld, we are closely
collaborating with the foresight unit.
Social proximitywhich many of the scouts have to be external expertsis also expected by the respondents to increase
the probability of success of the technology acquisition. One informant added that it occasionally also led to more favorable
contractual conditions with the technology owner, resulting in cost-saving for licensing fees and in lower cost of ownership
of joint ventures (i.e., less coordination effort because the business partners already knew each other well).
5. Conclusion
5.1. From a practitioners point of view
Overall, these examples show that running corporate foresight activities can be a good investment. But it was also
frequently commented that the return on investment often only happens in the long run, when the managers that originally
agreed to the budget may have already moved on in their career and will not be there anymore to enjoy the fruit of their
investment. This was also part of the reason that led to the closing of three foresight activities during the time of this study.
This also means that, from the perspective of a budget owner, running and investing in foresight activities is more risky for
ones own career than investing in business development or marketing campaigns. This dilemma can be expected to persist,
but can be reduced by dening the expected value contribution up-front, identifying committed individuals (foresighters
that want to create value for the company, rather than be content after creating future insights), and as intensive as possible
participation of internal stakeholders in the foresight activity.
Through the literature review, we have seen that beyond the high-level frameworks of, for example, dynamic capabilities,
little guidance is available on how to build organizations that are resilient to disruptive external change. Strategic-
management scholars suggest that rms build dynamic capabilities largely on existing processes (alliancing, strategic
decision-making, new product development, etc.). However, rms still repeatedly fail to respond and nd themselves in life-
threatening situations [46,58,75]. There are multiple reasons for this, including middle managers who hinder the
appropriate actions to be taken [44] and top managers who are unable to overcome mental models that have worked for
them well in the past, but provide poor guidance [76] or are misleading in todays environment [40].
Through the discussion of the cases, it was established that corporate foresight can:
Identify relevant change by scouting for trends both on the market and technology side.
Trigger innovation initiatives directly through a process or indirectly by relying on individuals like R and D managers to use
the insights into the future to start new R and D projects.
Challenge innovation development by providing future insights such as information on emerging technologies throughout
the R and D project lifecycles.
Contribute to overcoming dominant mental models and provide date to judge whether new mental models provide an
advantage over the old ones.
Fig. 4. Collecting information and acquiring technologies through scouting networks.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 448
Moderate strategic discussions through roadmapping workshops or through scenario analysis in which internal
stakeholders participate.
Support the breaking away from path dependency by specifying a vision for the future and planning the road toward that
future.
Support the search, development, and acquisition of strategic resources through scouting networks, etc.
In addition to providing concrete examples on which value contribution can be expected from which practice, the cross-
case analysis also gives some general recommendations on how to increase the impact of corporate foresight:
Design the foresight activity on the basis of committed individuals, putting particular emphasis on using mutually valuable
exchange relationships such as in the scouting network where all four actors prot from the activity.
Ensure a high level of communication and participation such as in the case of the consumer-scouting activity.
Use methods that allow for modeling and interpreting of the system of inuencing factors (such as the scenario technique),
rather than rely on methods that build on linear causeeffect relationships.
Experiment with methods and processes until you have found a practice that works for your company and takes into account
the special requirements in your context.
5.2. From a researchers point of view
With this paper, I want to contribute to broadening the knowledge about value contribution through corporate
foresight and create a link to methods and practices. I hope that linking the research on corporate foresight (or futures
research in organizations) to the body of knowledge of strategy and innovation management will help advance our
understanding. Particularly the integration with the dynamic-capabilities perspective should benet both research
streams, as corporate foresight lacks a strong theoretical basis and dynamic-capabilities theory lacks the connection to
day-to-day management.
For future research that integrates the corporate foresight and dynamic-capabilities perspective, the framework of Helfat
et al. (see Fig. 1) appears to be particularly useful. For such research, many questions remain unanswered. For example: can
rms manage the renewal of their portfolio of strategic resources through a process (or is a change of CEO and top-down
management required)? How should foresight activities be integrated with other processes such as strategic decision-
making and new product development? And there is still much room for research that aims to answer the long-standing
research question: how can rms become future-oriented (resilient against threats and capable of grasping opportunities
arising from change)?
6. Discussion
The aim of the empirical investigation was to nd evidence for value creation. This search was motivated by the need of
large rms to respond to changes in their environment and to assess the payoff from the cost of running foresight activities.
The potential contributions to the rms ability to respond were derived from strategic- and innovation-management
literature. Particularly the theories on disruptive innovations, radical innovations, and dynamic capabilities provided a
detailed analytical framework.
With data from 20 cases studies, I was able to extract multiple examples of value contribution. Comparing the
information given by at least three respondents per case (foresighter, the responsible manager for the foresight activity, and
the internal stakeholder) allowed me to validate the value contribution. For each group of expected value contributions, one
particularly representative example was selected and discussed in detail.
The example of consumer scouting showed how the corporate foresight activity had contributed to identifying emerging
customer requirements. This led to the adaptation of the portfolio of car models as well as an enhanced understanding of the
brand image. This triggered changes in the marketing strategy of the rm.
The second example, exploring and developing new business elds, highlighted the riskfaced particularly by large
companiesof not responding to emerging opportunities to develop a new market. It also showed how corporate foresight
activities drove the identication and development of a new business eld. Two approaches were discussed: one where the
executive board together with an external foresight consultancy identied and selected new business elds. A second
example showed how the same result could be achieved by building primarily on internal resources.
The third example, technology scouting and acquisition, described how networks of technology scouts are used for both
scanning for technological change and supporting the process of technology acquisition. It was reported that these rms
deliberately decided to use a people-based approach to be able to search in environments where terminology is still
changing (which is often the case in the early phase of a trend) and where rich, i.e., contextual information is needed to
convince decision-makers.
Appendix A
See Table A1.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 449
Table A1
Quotes and their translation.
Position in document Original quote (German) Translation by the author (English)
4.1 Trigger responses Zum einen ist natu rlich so, dass man als groer
Tanker auch groe Angriffsa che bietet an
mo glichen Sachen. Wissen um mo gliche Gefah-
ren ist grundsa tzlich, eine Aufgabe. Was man mit
dem Wissen macht ist was anderes.
An issue is that as a large tanker [tanker being a
metaphor emphasizing the size and reaction
speed of large companies], you offer a large
surface for attacks. [Therefore,] generating
knowledge about threats is an objective. What
you do with this knowledge is a different issue.
4.1 Trigger responses Dann Scouting als Einsatz zur generellen Auf-
nahme von relevanten Trends in der Zukunft.
Zum Bespiel das Thema Loha-Trend (Anmerkung
LOHAS is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and
Sustainability). Und erst einmal gar nicht mit
einer konkreten Fragestellung, wie die U

berset-
zung ins Produkt, sondern erst einmal, wie gro
ist der Trend? Wie lange wird der anhalten? Wie
pra gt er sich aus? Wie gehen andere Industrien
damit um? Wie geht die Kunst, die Politik, die
Architektur, wie geht die Gaming-Industrie damit
um?
[One task of foresight is] the identication of
relevant trends. For example, the issue LOHAS
(lifestyle of health and sustainability) and to start
not with a concrete question, such as How do we
change our products? But rather, How big is the
trend? How long will it last? How will it evolve?
How do other industries respond? How do
culture, politics, architecture, or the gaming
industry respond to the trend?
4.1 Trigger responses Original quote was in English We have worked extremely hard to identify white
spaces. We have not identied disruptions, but
we have started many [R and D projects] where
we have identied gaps.
4.1 Trigger responses Wir haben erst von heute bis in das Jahr 2015
extrapoliert. Und dann habe wir von der Zukunft
zuru ck geplant und festgestellt: Aha, lieber
Fachbereich, da [technologisches Feld] habt ihr
ja gar nichts. Und das hat dazu gefu hrt, dass wir
neue F&E Projekte aufgesetzt haben um diese
Lu cken zu fu llen.
We rst did an extrapolation to the year 2015. We
then planned backwards and concluded: Dear
operational unit, in that [technological] eld you
have nothing. And this led to the initiation of new
R and D projects to bridge this gap.
4.1 Trigger responses Wichtig ist dass die unterschiedlichen Teilneh-
mer (Anmerkung: Teilnehmer des Fru haufkla r-
ungsprojekts, die internen Stakeholdern) ein Bild
im Kopf haben. Aber nicht ein klar deniertes,
vorgegebenes Zukunftsbild, sondern absichtliche
Unscha rfe um zur Initiierung von neuen Innova-
tionsaktivita ten zu ermuntern.
It is important to create images in the mind of
the participants [the participants of the fore-
sight project, who are from the divisional
innovation management units]. Not a clear,
predened picture, but an image with intended
fuzziness to inspire them to create new innova-
tion activities.
4.2 Strategic change Wir wollen natu rlich nicht, wie Grundig oder Agfa
(Kommentar: Zwei Unternehmen, die durch
externe Umbru che insolvent geworden sind)
solche bo sen U

berraschungen erleben. Man lernt


ja von dem anderen, was man falsch gemacht hat,
damit man das halt nicht wiederholt.
Naturally we dont want to experience such dire
surprises as those faced by Grundig and Agfa
[both companies led for bankruptcy following
discontinuous change]. It is important to learn
from others to keep yourself from making the
same mistakes.
4.2 Strategic change Ich muss immer meine Grundannahmen pru fen.
Also zum Beispiel wenn, 1. Das O

l vielleicht
irgendwann ganz weg ist und 2. Wir im Moment
nichts anderes machen, dann folgt natu rlich 3. Ich
muss mal sehen, dass ich mich entweder entlang
meiner Wertscho pfungskette weiterentwickle
oder in komplett andere Gescha ftsfelder rein-
gehe.
I need to continuously monitor my basic assump-
tions. For instance, I recognize that (1) the oil
might be gone forever and (2) we are doing
nothing else; and then I can deduct that (3) I
should extend my business along the value chain
or move into totally new business elds.
4.2 Strategic change Durch unsere Strukturierung nach Marktsegmen-
ten, wird dann so ein neuer Markt vergessen. Weil
fu r mich ist das kein O

l und Gas Upstream Thema,


es ist aber auch kein Downstream Thema, es ist
auch kein Midstream Thema und das sind alle
unsere Gescha ftsfelder. Es ist auch kein Thema
der industriellen Gase. Also dann vergisst man
vielleicht mal einen Markt und deshalb braucht
man auch Organisationen, die sich mit Ma rkten
bescha ftigen kann, die heute noch gar nicht
behandelt werden.
Because of our structure along market segments,
emerging new markets may be overlooked.
Because for me it [the market for CO
2
capture
and storage] is not an oil and gas upstream topic,
but it is also not a downstream topic, it is also not
a midstream topic, and it is also not a topic of
industrial gas. And these are all our business
segments. Therefore, some markets may be
overlooked, and in consequence an organiza-
tional unit is needed that can take care of markets
that are not dealt with today.
4.3 Renew portfolio
of strategic resources
In Projekten, wo wir gezielt irgendwelche The-
men anschauen, welche Start-Ups, welche Firmen
gibt es da auf der Welt, da sind wir eben eng mit
der Fru haufkla rung verwoben.
In projectsin which we look at specic topics
and the start-ups and companies in that eldwe
are closely collaborating with the foresight unit.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 450
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Rene Rohrbeck is Associate Professor for Strategy. His research interests are organizational change, strategy as practice, innovation management and
corporate foresight. His research has been published in R&D Management, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, Futures, Technological
Forecasting and Social Change and in several books, including Corporate Foresight: Toward a Maturity Model for the Future Orientation of a Firm. He has
6 years of practical experience in the ICT and automotive industry, where he worked for Deutsche Telekom and Volkswagen on strategic management,
innovation management and corporate foresight. In addition he has served as consultant for various companies in the ICT, automobile, luxury goods and
energy industry.
R. Rohrbeck / Futures 44 (2012) 440452 452