Design Thinking

The 5 stages of future thinking

Source: FutureShapers

Author:  Dick Hulzebos

Stage 1 – Visual thinking

Future thinking starts with a ‘I have a dream (King, 1963). This quote points out stage one, visualisation thinking. A dream starts with chaos ending in a clear imagination. What happens is that all single elements are connected and if you see the connection, the picture becomes clear. Take a photograph as example. We see many pixels and they are not connected with each other. Our brains however are able to make connections, which result in a picture.

The dream, imagination or picture is built around available sources and your ambition, where new information is added. Some things will not easily change. If you want to pave a road, you will find obstacles like houses, trees, oceans, et cetera. Most times it is easier to avoid them. In other circumstances you will, because of own ambitions, find a solution to continue your path. It is a way of making choices to reach your goal. During the other stages you might continue to practise visual thinking while more details become clear to complete your picture.

Stage 2 – Conceptual thinking

Having a dream and having no plan stays a dream. If you want to be famous and you have no plan to show yourself to the world, nobody will find you. There are many ways to become famous. Important is to think about the concept of how you will be recognised.

Make a dream great, in the stage conceptual thinking, through a practical approach to detail the conceptual “what, why, when, where, who and how” (Cox, 2017). With these questions you have to look at the environment and your ambition. Does it fit the purpose? Does it fit your ambition? Does it add value? Is it relevant? Asking yourself these questions will add more concepts.

Stage 3 – Scenario thinking

All concepts will turn into feasible scenarios in the stage of scenario thinking. Every scenario has another perspective. One of the powers of scenarios (Roxburgh, 2009) is to uncover inevitable or near-inevitable futures. By analysing scenarios, you often identify some particular drivers of change.

Before you go on holiday, you think of several options, like the way of transportation, the route you will take, where to stay, what kind of activity you like. Every perspective has his advantages. The choice of the best scenario has the most valuable advantages or it contains drivers to value your purpose. In the end you choose one and this one will be worked out in detail.

Stage 4 – Strategic thinking

For the chosen scenario you have to look how you can gain the value. In the stage of strategic thinking, you will look at the environment and your own capabilities to add relevant value to your purpose. However, most of the companies struggle to align the new strategy with the business strategy (Beswick, 2018). Therefore, it is important that you know where you stand today. You can’t change today, but you can change tomorrow. Before doing so, you have to identify your current level of maturity. Are you able to perform? Are you able to create a sustainable mix?

Will you build a house before knowing your own capabilities? Do you have the resources, knowledge and experience to build it? Will it stand for years? How mature are you? The stage of strategic thinking looks if your level of maturity fits the required development process.

Stage 5 – Design thinking

Living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world (Salazar, 2019), our environment is continuously changing and your strategy has to fit in here. During the stage of design thinking, you constantly react on these changes and navigate to reach your destination. You build in all steps of the development process and you decide the right moment to start that process to realise your dream.

As business navigator I constantly make corrections when organisations take other directions or when they lose focus on their goal. Sailors pick a point on the horizon to stay focused on their course. The wind will drift their boat and without focus they miss their destination. Before starting their journey, they overthought everything in detail. Not everything can be predicted. At least they are aware of what can happen and how they can react in case of the unexpected. Avoiding unwanted situations saves time and energy.

Future thinking

Future thinking is a mix of thinking in five different stages. Every stage is a layer that remains untill the end of the thinking process. The way of thinking will be built up and every stage brings more detail.


The advantage of future thinking is that the care taken in executing it ensures a successful process and increases the chance of an innovation.

Bibliography
Beswick, C. (2018, January 18). Creating an organisation-wide innovation strategy. Retrieved from The Future Shapers: https://thefutureshapers.com/creating-organisation-wide-innovation-strategy/
Cox, Z. (2017, August 7). What makes a good idea great? Retrieved from The Future Shapers: https://thefutureshapers.com/makes-good-idea-great/
King, M. L. (1963, August 28). i have a dream. Washington, Washington D.C., Unites States of America.
Roxburgh, C. (2009). The use and abuse of scenarios. McKinsey Quartely, p. 10.
Salazar, C. (2019, April 09). Design Thinking & the uncertain future VUCA . Retrieved from The Future Shapers: https://thefutureshapers.com/design-thinking-framework-success/

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