Magazine article The Futurist

Taking Stock in Teaching Forecasting: Bringing Business Case Studies to Life Helps Students Explore Technology's Impacts

Magazine article The Futurist

Taking Stock in Teaching Forecasting: Bringing Business Case Studies to Life Helps Students Explore Technology's Impacts

Article excerpt

Foresight, a common ingredient in many success stories, may be a skill set that eludes today's information-inundated young adults. This story describes a simple effort to incorporate foresight thought processes into a college classroom using an exercise in forecasting--in this case, the class was a general education course titled Exploring Technology.

General education courses often comprise students from a diverse set of majors and typically examine an array of topics. The study of impacts, trends, and forecasting is a reoccurring theme that can be applied to many subject areas. Exploring Technology examined the role of technology across society, political and economic systems, our environment, and the human condition. The course covered the concept of impacts, followed by technology-transfer processes and attributes of trends, then concluded with forecasting. This exercise sought to complement an objective that strives to have students apply forecasting techniques.

Working in small groups, students selected an industry of interest (e.g., apparel, finance, software, transportation) and identified a leading publicly traded company from the industry for further study. They were directed to assemble facts about the industry, including the cost of doing business, challenges for competitors seeking to enter the industry, the likelihood of the industry being replaced, and other contexts for understanding the industry as a whole.

After gaming this overarching understanding, students investigated their selected leading company with an eye for indicators of growth, competition, or contraction. They were exposed to tools and resources used by various investors in screening and evaluating publicly traded companies.

The framing for the exercise was linked to two ideas. First, forecasting is a real, authentic, and potentially powerful practice that is available to every adult, every business day, in the form of investing--the buying, selling, and use of other stock-leveraging tools. Second, forecasting can be systematic, including the use of tools and processes.

Using the Five Views of the Future framework developed by John H. Vanston, chairman of Technology Futures Inc., students acquire useful conceptual views of the future and discover sample methods for presenting both quantitative and qualitative information. Other resources offered by Technology Futures Inc. equip the students for making connections between the types of stock and company data encountered and a conceptual forecasting view.

Vanston's Five Views of the Future framework provides a lens for students to consider variables on the future direction of an industry, demand for a product line, and potential influences on revenue stream. Each view includes a philosophical perspective, along with tools or sample methods that users might need to interpret available data. The views range from heavily quantitative to more qualitative forecasting approaches. Students were asked to exhibit methods samples that align with two of the five views:

* Extrapolators presume that past patterns indicate future direction. They use straight-forward logic that draws largely on existing data, which informs a quantitatively driven forecast.

* Pattern Analysts draw upon historic trends and cycles to examine analogous situations under the presumption that history repeats itself. Understanding driving forces becomes important.

* Goal Analysts believe that key leaders and innovators will seize opportunities to identify or create a "human-need" vacuum, thereby creating a trend. They also acknowledge the multifaceted impact potential of "black swan" or unpredictable wild-card events.

* Counter Punchers thrive under chaos. Their actions and impacts are unplanned and unknown, and their best planning is moment-by-moment monitoring with an agile response strategy.

* Intuitors rely on "thin-slicing" to decipher a host of complex and often unrelated dynamics. …

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