Horizon Scanning for the Future

The future looms on the horizon for every organization. Those who implement strategic foresight tools have the opportunity to position themselves to capitalize on the opportunities of the future rather than become slaves to it (Cornish, 2005).

One such tool is called horizon scanning. Horizon scanning is a primary tool used to identify change on the horizon and either confirm or disconfirm the assumptions that are being made about the coming future (Gary, 2012). It is the process of seeking out and gathering information at the margins of current perceptions (Gordon, 2008). When applying horizon scanning, an organization is looking and listening for new ideas and new practices that are the straws in the wind of change (Gordon, 2008). Horizon scanning is a critical element of strategic decision making (Simon, 1993) because it provides the information needed to recognize the emergent opportunities and threats that are currently groundswells that will eventually become mainstream elements of organizational existence (Preble, 1992).

The challenge is determining how to go about finding such information. Because horizon scanning deals with information that is not mainstream, it is important to develop the skill of finding vital information in periphery of what is known and in common practice (Gordon, 2008). Such work involves analysis of trends, drivers of change, weak signals, wild cards, discontinuities, and outliers (Saritas & Miles, 2012). It is seeking out people such as practitioners, entrepreneurs, and those who cope with the problems or challenges on a daily basis (Juech, 2006).

Horizon scanning can be likened to a Secret Service Agent who pays no attention to the spectacle that draws everyone’s attention, but, instead, pays attention to the seeming trivial details in order to connect the dots and anticipate the coming reality. Anticipating such a reality can increase the chances of being successful.


Cornish, E. (2005). Futuring: the exploration of the future (1. paperback printing). Bethesda, Md: World Future Society.

Gary, J. (2012, September). Strategic Foresight Scanning Report – Minor Project 1. Regent University.

Gordon, A. (2008). Future Savvy: Identifying Trends to Make Better Decisions, Manage Uncertainty, and Profit from Change. AMACOM.

Juech, C. (2006). Horizon Scanning to Improve Social Impact (Forum for the Future) (pp. pp. 1–18). The Rockefeller Foundation.

Preble, J. F. (1992). Towards a Comprehensive System of Strategic Control*. Journal of Management Studies, 29(4), 391–408. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.1992.tb00671.x

Saritas, O., & Miles, I. (2012). Scan-4-Light: a Searchlight function horizon scanning and trend monitoring project. Foresight : The Journal of Futures Studies, Strategic Thinking and Policy, 14(6), 489–510. http://doi.org/http://0-dx.doi.org.library.regent.edu/10.1108/14636681211284935

Simon, H. A. (1993). Strategy and organizational evolution. Strategic Management Journal, 14(S2), 131–142. http://doi.org/10.1002/smj.4250141011

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