At this year’s World Cancer Leader’s Summit in Nur-sultan, Kazakhstan, as part of the UICC’s CEO Programme, John Sweeney, Director at the Qazaq Research Institute for Futures Studies, will lead an exclusive half-day workshop for CEOs and leaders of UICC member organisations on applying ‘foresight’ for organisational learning. Here, he explains why this organisational practice is increasingly relevant for organisations across all sectors, including cancer control.
A variety of forces are currently impacting and transforming cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. Globally, approved therapies and overall spending on medicines continue to rise, but a mere 35 drugs account for almost 80% of total expenditure. IBM’s Watson was initially shown to detect rare forms of cancer earlier than doctors, but concerns have arisen about potentially unsafe treatment recommendations that were put forward by the artificially-intelligent platform. Medical advancements, particularly immunotherapies, together with advancements in information technology, are leading to personalised prevention.
Now, imagine 2035. What’s the same? What’s changed?
It turns out that creatively and critically imagining the future is not an easy thing to do, especially given our neurological tendencies. Research has found that the cognitive and neural processes used for imagining “the future” are eerily similar to those associated with “episodic memory”. Ultimately, this research suggests that our very ability to imagine the future is heavily conditioned by our recollection of past personal experiences, which supports the observation that we “march backwards into the future.”
As a means of combating this biological, but also organisational, shortcoming in imagining possibilities for what might lie ahead, a “futures mindset” creates an awareness of the intuitive and potential dynamics shaping the world to come. As a practice, foresight centers on asking critical questions, such as: what driving forces are shaping tomorrow? What can and might disrupt the dominant trends of today? What if the least likely scenario we can imagine comes to pass? How can we prepare ourselves to operate within an environment whose challenges and opportunities lie beyond our imagination?
The above frames were instrumental in my work as the first Global Futures and Foresight Coordinator at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which serves as the secretariat for the world’s largest humanitarian organisation. In the lead up to the IFRC’s next strategy development process, foresight provided a pathway to facilitate a broad conversation on the challenges and opportunities of the future, and how the organisation might be impacted in the years to come.
Although foresight is becoming more commonplace, I still often need to explain what it is that “futurists” actually do. As a means of explaining my work, I have often returned to a quote by the French philosopher, Michel Foucault: “My job is making windows where there were once walls.” Inserting windows into walls is an apt metaphor for how foresight works as a process. Windows provide a frame for seeing the outside world, but they also allow light to come inside, which is a way of saying that foresight looks at both the operational environment and internal organisational dynamics, and how they interact to affect our interpretation of the future. Ultimately, putting windows into walls is an act of "creative distruction" not too dissimilar from disassembling unhelpful institutional narratives and disengaging from inefficient practices.
Want to know more?
Join us at the CEO Programme workshop on 17 October in Nur-sultan, Kazakhstan, at the 2019 World Cancer Leaders’ Summit to adopt (or enhance) a futures mindset that can strengthen the ongoing movement for cancer care and control.
Dr. John A. Sweeney is an award-winning futurist, designer, and author. He consults widely and has delivered keynote presentations, seminars, and training courses in over 40 countries on six continents. As a futurist, he focuses on the impact of new technologies, organisational strategies for surviving and thriving in an increasingly complex world, and transforming policy, planning, and strategy development processes by “using the future” as a resource. John has led, organised, and facilitated strategic planning and foresight projects for a range of clients, including numerous humanitarian and development agencies, government innovation units, and Fortune 500 companies. He currently serves as Director at the Qazaq Research Institute for Futures Studies at Narxoz University where he is also an Assistant Professor of Futures and Foresight.
The UICC’s CEO Programme aims to provide CEOs (including Managing Directors, Secretary Generals and Director Generals) of UICC member organisations with a suite of tailored opportunities to learn, network and share with peers about the specific challenges they face in their role.
The CEO workshop at the 2019 World Cancer Leaders’ Summit (WCLS) is an exclusive offer for CEOs, or equivalent, of UICC member organisations attending WCLDS.
The CEO Programme is made possible thanks to sponsorship by