Context maps, progression curves & Janus Cones

Few posts ago, I wrote an article about Foresight Thinking approach (focusing on “understand the future user”), that I had the great opportunity to experiment during a workshop with William Cockayne and Tamara Carleton from Stanford University. In this post, I would like to get back to the topic and analyze other important tools, starting from the benefits of Foresight and Innovation approach, which are:

  • Acknowledge change, threats, opportunities of the future. Engage and stimulate thinking about the future.
  • Connects long-term perspectives with innovation actions today. Overcome the gap between big idea and on-the-ground execution
  • Built to work in the style of today’s collaborative, team-based approach to projects in the workplace

Summing up: to be able to see future opportunities (threats), getting ahead of change, avoiding surprises and renewing innovation success.

The first important phase of the process is the Perspective Phase, which has a high ambiguity and uncertainty level due to its very divergent approach,. This phase is to develop a broad and historical perspective about an area of interest relevant to the future we are analyzing. “We must look back first in order to look forward”. The useful questions that must be answered in this phase are: what is the bigger context for the sector/industry we are interested in? What historical events, industry actions, and societal movements can be identified as drivers of today’s reality? When reviewing previous inventions and opportunities, what similarities in timing and adoption exist today? Of course these are very broad and difficult questions, but are very useful to open our foresight thinking minds and to open up to this particular approach that, sometimes, can be hard to tackle.
The first tool is the Context Maps. Context Mapping is a mapping technique for capturing emergent conversation themes in complex problems to show integrated context. It can be used in different ways during the understanding phase of the project, starting from a very general topic to more detailed aspects of this topic. Here is an example about the topic: ideal flying car.
context map
Another tools is the Progression Curves. Progression Curves are a graphical representation that explains the progression of changes in terms of technological, social, and related filters. It is possible to graphically list different steps of a process of diverse events in a specific context and place them on the curves according to time or importance of a single step. The more curves are created, the more useful this tool is, because it’s possible to cross and overlap the curves obtaining interesting results and insights. In this example, it has been tried to create a curve about Common Technology and Social Curves.
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The last tool of this Perspective Phase is the Janus Cones, a foresight tool for looking backwards and forwards in time to identify the timing of historical events and how these timings affect potential future events.  The cone is double of course: the left part is referred to the past (so it’s easier to complete). The right part is for the future, so either potential future events or certain facts that are likely to happen in the imminent future can be placed inside the cone.  In this exercise it has been used the left part, listing all the most important events regarding the development of Silicon Valley from the 1950 till today (2010).
janus cone
An interesting aspect of the last two tools is that they are designed to be overlapped in order to obtain more information and to visualized areas that are not been investigated yet. In this examples, we can see how some Progression Curves have been overlapped on the Janus Cone precisely mapping the development of Key Industries  in Silicon Valley.
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What I really find interesting in all these tools is the fact that they are not precisely defined of fixed, but they are intentionally thought to be adjusted according to the different occasions in which they are used or openly developed by the professionals in the field.