Foresight as a core competence
Edward Major a, David Asch a, Martyn
This paper concentrates on building a relationship between foresight and the core
competence view of strategy. Core competence has been gaining popularity within the
strategy literature concurrently to the growing interest in foresight.
Section 2 reviews the foresight concept and the UK Foresight programme.
Section 3 looks at the strategy literature, reviewing concepts of strategy in general and the
core competence view in particular.
in Section 4 focus on Knowledge of foresight in industry was generated by a study into
take-up of foresight concepts and the Foresight programme in small companies.
Section 5 shows how foresight can be viewed as a core competence.
Section 6 then discusses the implications that follow for the foresight concept, the UK
Foresight programme and the concept of core competence.
The concept of foresight and the UK
Foresight principles are generally considered to have first gained popular use in Japan,
where the Government has conducted national programmes approximately every 5 years
The Japanese experience is considered as one reason for that country’s post-war global
competitive success, and has heavily influenced national Foresight programmes in other
The UK Foresight programme has been heavily influenced by foresight study. Many
foresight practitioners in both academia and industry were consulted and continue to be
involved. The Foresight programme has in turn contributed to the foresight field, not least
by broadcasting and popularising the concept.
The concept of foresight
“Foresight” is an elusive term having different meanings to different people.
Slaughter presents a comprehensive study of the foresight principle. He considers that:
Foresight is not the ability to predict the future…It is a human attribute that allows us to
weigh up pros and cons, to evaluate different courses of action and to invest possible futures
on every level with enough reality and meaning to use them as decision making aids.
The simplest possible definition of foresight is: opening to the future with every
means at our disposal, developing views of future options, and then choosing
between them .
According to Slaughter, foresight is an attribute, or a competence; it is a process that
attempts to broaden the boundaries of perception in four ways :
By assessing the implications of present actions, decisions, etc.(consequent
By detecting and avoiding problems before they occur (early warning and
By considering the present implications of possible future events (pro-active
By envisioning aspects of desired futures (normative scenarios)
Horton discusses the elements that should constitute a successful foresight process.
Successful foresight, she argues entails three consecutive phases:
Phase one comprises the collection, collation and summarization of available
information…and results in the production of foresight knowledge.
Phase two comprises the translation and interpretation of this knowledge to produce
an understanding of its implications for the future from the specific point of view of a
Phase three comprises the assimilation and evaluation of this understanding to produce a
commitment to action in a particular organization.
The UK Foresight programme
The Foresight programme is a “meta-level” programme…designed to provide an overall
direction to and justification for science and technology policy. It seeks to co-ordinate
research and innovation agendas across public and private organizations, industrial and
service sectors, and academic disciplines by developing new alliances between the
producers and consumers of knowledge .
The Foresight programme aims to create sustainable competitive advantage and enhance
the quality of life, by bringing together business, the science base and Government to
identify and respond to emerging opportunities in markets and technologies…Foresight is
about creating a culture change in the way the UK approaches the future .
. The strategy literature and the core
competence view of strategy
The study of business strategy predates foresight by a long way. The concept of foresight
has been studied in relative isolation. This section briefly reviews several important
models, showing the development of theory, before considering the core competence view
in greater depth.
Models of strategy: Teece et al, assess several of the more important and relevant models
of strategy. Through the 1980s the dominant model was the competitive forces
approach. In this model firms use strategy to relate to their environment. The key aspect
is the industry or industries in which a firm competes. The inherent profit potential of an
industry is determined by five industry level forces — barriers to entry, threat of
substitution, bargaining power of buyers, bargaining power of sup- pliers and rivalry
among incumbent firms.
The strategic conflict approach emphasizes one of the five forces while giving a broader
view to the firm’s environment. This is a conflict-based approach; rivalry and interaction
between firms is the central theme.
Hamel describes five key characteristics of core competencies. Firstly they are an
integration (or a “unique mix” )of constituent skills and technologies. They are unlikely to
reside in a single individual, deriving rather from the combination of individuals’ abilities
and firms’ systems.
Secondly they are knowledge rather than asset based; they are an activity, a result of
Thirdly they have customer value; they are “the skills which enable a firm to deliver a
fundamental customer benefit”.
Fourthly they are competitively unique; to be core the firm must hold a sufficiently
superior competence over its competitors (they must be hard to imitate).
Finally, core competencies should provide a gateway into new markets; the firm must be
able to envision new product markets that can arise from them. The core competence view
has become a popular concept
Foresight and the core competence view of
The role of the individual : The impact of managerial attitudes and attributes is
central. Even in the foresighting companies their foresight knowledge was
attributed to individual staff rather than to company systems or procedures.
Accumulation of foresight knowledge and a company’s use of foresight concepts
build primarily on the proclivity of one manager or a small management group.
Characteristics of managerial attitudes in
CORE COMPETENCE AND FORESIGHT CHARACTERISTICS
CORE COMPETENCIES FORESIGHT
Integration of skills and technologies Resides in individuals and teams
Knowledge based Depends on tacit knowledge
Customer value Extends to future benefits
Competitively unique Enables the building of competitive advantage
Difficult to imitate Based on systems and tacit knowledge
Gateway to new markets Helps to identify new opportunities
This paper has argued that the foresight concept, and the UK’s national Foresight
programme in particular, has been handicapped by its minimal interaction with the strategy
literature. By reviewing foresight in conjunction with the strategy literature, it has been
possible to show that foresight can be thought of as a core competence.. From this was high-
lighted the critical importance of the tacit knowledge of individual managers. This study
allowed foresight to be compared to the core competence view of strategy.