You wish it was, wouldn’t you?
We all wish that we could glimpse into our future. Just enough to make us richer/happier/relaxed (choose your own motivation). Our assumption is that by knowing more about future events we could steer away from unexpected outcomes and towards our goals with better efficiency and success. Indeed, in our constantly increasing competitive modern existence, any insight into the future is worthwhile. Richard Rumelt, author of “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy” says that “If you can peer into the fog of change and see 10% more clearly then others see, than you may gain an edge”
In a previous blog post I tried to point that embracing our own uncertainties is a good way to focus. By embracing key uncertainties we allow new order to emerge and do not eliminate any possibilities from materializing. However, If we leave any change efforts only to times of crisis, then we are giving priority to emergencies and not to real emergence.
Change is complex, we usually don’t have the right tools to foresee it’s need or to navigate it. But, one great tool for allowing a possibility of emerging change and self organizing to appear is called scenario planning. This practical tool has been tested and used since the days of the cold war, and by private sector giants like Dutch Shell, Xerox and American Express. It had even proved instrumental in the political transition of South Africa from the Apartheid period and for decisions making in the face of global warming.
Mostly, as a strategy planning tool, it is structured and process oriented, but it can also be embraced with a light touch, as an experiment for your own testing.
If you’d like to test it for yourself, experiment with the benefits it might bring you, your organization or industry (remember that 10% clarity of looking into the fog?), just remember this following couple of points.
Scenarios are not aimed at prediction or for statistical probability calculation. They should not be prioritized or chosen from. Keep them all close to you by making them all equally plausible, logical and relevant to your problem. As was in the case of Shell – “Shell scenarios are intended to set the stage for a future world in which readers imagine themselves as actors and are invited to pay attention to deeply held assumptions about how that world works. What happens at a scenario’s horizon date is not as important as the storyline’s clarity of logic and how it helps open the mind to new dynamics.”
And this is the second point to remember, its a story and should remain one. Because “A story is not a position, so no one has to be for or against it“. By having multiple futures embraced as plausible stories at the same time these scenarios could invoke collaboration and innovation into your process. Management, or any decision making body, should be inspired and challenged by these stories. Pierre Wack, again from Shell, put it back in 1985 in these words – “To be effective, they must involve top and middle managers in understanding the changing business environment more intimately than they would in the traditional planning process.” .
If you engage in this experiment, if you manage to make it relevant and challenging to you and your problem then you can get valuable insights as to where the markets, and even your costumers are heading. “Good innovators don’t react to the market, they identify emerging opportunities and arrive with products and solutions before customers are aware that their needs or conditions have changed.“, this is how you create real disruption, by pushing forward and transforming your own users.
If you take for example the delivery services, we are all well aware that this industry have been transforming and is expected to be further disrupted by the idea of drones delivery. Indeed “Amazon and Uber both want to deliver anything you want—at any time“. But this vision still entail many uncertainties, can a future looking scenarios planning approach help here? In a recent competition, this following vision of a drones launching skyscraper was awarded second prize. This courageous sneak pick into the future is similar to a scenario narrative and can tell us a remarkable story around which we can start planning, preparing and innovating.
So the takeaway here is not to wait for others to set up the future for you, start embracing your own uncertainties and plan your scenarios now. It can begin by just jotting down a basic matrix made out of a couple of your key uncertainties. Draw them on a napkin as two crossed lines representing each continuum, and see how the different stories emerge. Then you might involve some of your colleagues and start narrating more detailed scenario for each quarter of that matrix.
Remember that your scenarios are not about revealing the hidden future, but they’re all about embracing it’s ambiguity and challenging your current assumption. Hey, maybe even some innovation and new ideas will come to you in the process, who knows? – it’s your own future.
If you enjoyed this piece, do comment on it and share it. This will make me really happy in any given scenario.