On foresight

by The Editor

SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. I am back and normal posting will resume from tomorrow. In the meantime, here is yesterday’s column, on the idea of foresight and how it works. The ability to foresee things can often be mistaken for guesswork. The difference between foresight and randomness is reason and being able to argue forcefully, the ability to use language and logic to present a prediction.

On foresight

By: Gareth van Onselen

9 October 2012

In the broadest terms, foresight can be seen to encompass two general forms: the ability to envisage what action is necessary to create or realise an opportunity or, alternatively, to negate or nullify a threat.

As that formulation suggests, there is another way of understanding the idea: the ability to create or negate – in other words, to give or deny life to something as yet unformed; or, the ability to realize or nullify – in other words, to further enhance, arrest or reverse the progress of that which already exists.

Of this second set of ideas, the rarer talent is the former; for one has no assurance as to how reality might shape or influence a process, merely intuition, imagination and experience on which to rely.

Being able to develop a fledgling idea is an art, make no mistake, and to act in a manner that fosters a predetermined environment in which that idea might later grow and flourish a great skill, but one already has some suggestion as to it’s general nature by the fact that it exists at all.

Not so an opportunity not yet imagined, let alone realized. By the same measure it is often difficult for those able to see ahead in this way to convince others that their foresight is correct: that an opportunity awaits or threat looms. And so foresight is often at its most powerful when accompanied by a mastery of language, logic and reason – which makes sense, for what use is foresight if it cannot be properly articulated?

Thus, visionaries can easily be confused with soothsayers, especially when their imagined nonsense is coated in sweet language.

The difference between the two is reason, and the most powerful foresight is that which able to bind together imagination and reason in a cogent vision, opportunity or threat, inspiring or unnerving, of equal persuasion.

An abbreviated version of this column first appeared in the Business Day. For more columns from The Thing About series, click here.

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