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Developing Critical Thinking in Leaders -Better foresight, insight and hindsight.

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Using ‘What’, ‘So What’ and ‘Now What’ to develop better foresight, insight and hindsight.

There is a saying that hindsight is 20/20 and the English poet, William Blake said that "Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better”.

Foresight is the ability to make decisions to prepare for the future while insight is the ability to make sense of the present situation, make interpretations of our observations of current events and take actions to put ourselves in a better position.

Hindsight is our ability to learn from our past. In other words, we can look back on situations and past decisions to learn about what happened, what we could do have done differently which we did not understand or realise at that time.

Hindsight comes from better reflections while foresight is the application of those insights from our reflections to help us make better decisions in the future.

How can individuals develop better foresight, insight and hindsight?

Can these skills be learned? Yes. Everyone is constantly operating between foresight, insight and hindsight.

An easy method involve asking ourselves three questions, ‘What?’, ‘So What?”, ‘Now What?’

1. "What?"

Let’s take an example of an individual contemplating a career change. While busy working in the current job, the individual needs to constantly ask this question, ‘What is happening to my industry?’ ‘What is happening to my organization?’ and ‘What is happening to my career?’ That is the ‘What’ question.

By asking the ‘What’ questions outlined above, he/she would be able to observe and be sensitive to trends such as, the rise of robotics, the use of Artificial Intelligence, flattening of the organisation structure, hybrid working arrangements, business as a service happening in the industry, organisation and career. Developing good insights requires first the ability to get information and make sense of what’s happening around us.

2. "So What?"

From these observations and awareness of what is happening around him/her, this individual needs to ask, ‘So What?’; what is the meaning of these trends and how do they impact me? By asking the ‘So What?’ question, the individual will have to make some inferences on possible impacts of these trends and decisions to leverage on the trends. For example, he can conclude that there is a need to develop cross-disciplinary skills and competencies to keep himself employable. Or he/she may conclude that there is tremendous opportunity outside the organisation and launch his/her own business.

3. "Now What?"

These are all insights the individual has developed by making inferences and linkages to the observations. Then, the individual needs to ask, ‘Now What?’, ‘What do I do about it?’

Foresight comes from taking actions early to put ourselves in the best possible position to leverage on the developed insights. Many people do not take actions on their insights and engage in analysis paralysis or have internal barriers such as fear that prevent them from taking decisive actions early.

For example, more and more consumers are transacting online and moving towards e-payment but some companies resist the e-commerce trend. However, when their business is suffering due to the fierce online competition, it may be too late to take action. That’s where the hindsight comes in and they say to themselves, ‘I knew this was coming and should have taken actions earlier!’

Taking actions turn insights into foresight.

However, before taking actions, organisations and individuals can leverage on other’s hindsight to ensure the best possible decision.

For example, individuals can ask, who has encountered similar career decisions and what can I learn from them?

Organizations can ask, which industry and companies have gone through similar e-commerce journeys and what can we learn from them. That is called learning from best practices or role models.

Interview role models and research on successful case studies to learn from their mistakes and successes. That is learning through other’s hindsight.

Besides using ‘What’, ‘So What’, ‘Now What’ to develop better foresight, insight and hindsight, what other methods and questions would you ask?


If you find this useful, check out our Performance Management tools and how we help managers and organizations manage appraisals to align, inspire and empower high performance.

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