This new year began for me, with a sense of heightened sensitivity. I was wondering whether the choppy currents of 2020, which have brought so much pain and uncertainly to many people around the world, will continue to batter us in 2021, whether the underlying currents of technological innovation, new partnership and bold leadership, which we have also seen, will stay resilient in the face of such battering. Most of all, I was wondering whether our inner psyche will hold sufficiently, to keep us pursuing our sense of purpose, gaining clarity and forging ahead onto new pathways. Or have we made a deliberate choice to turn outward, to seek human connection and, strengthened, step ahead?
And so, with that in mind, and I suspect, like many of you, I began to think about scenarios. We know that scenarios are nothing new when it comes to management circles. Officially, the term was coined in the 1950’s, in the throes of the Cold War. In the US, The RAND Corporation was set up at the time, to research new forms of weapons technology, and Hermann Kahn pioneered the technique of ‘’future-now’’ thinking, aiming through the use of detailed analysis plus imagination, to be able to produce a report, written as it might be written by people living in the future. The description ‘’scenario’’ was given to these stories, though other words were considered (apparently, the term ‘screenplay’ did not make the cut, as it was considered ’not dignified enough…’). Fast-forward to the early 1970’s and, in the wake of the 1973 Oil Shock, Scenario Planning began to take its place in Corporate Planning and Strategy functions, across organisations.
At the heart of it, scenarios help us make our underlying assumptions more explicit (and so the planning that precedes a scenario exercise is so vital – more on that in a moment). As part of a scenario planning exercise, teams can pose alternative futures, where our underlying assumptions do not necessarily correlate with the assumptions we might make today — very often the ones which fuel our most accepted ‘version of the future’. By surfacing and then testing these assumptions, we can envision more than just the ‘official scenario’, the most plausible or accepted by the organisation, but powerful alternatives – some more desirable than the official version, some rather disturbing. All, however, are insightful in understanding what drives our thinking, where we might have our blinkers on, and what opportunities we might be neglecting, by restricting our view to the assumptions we know.
So far so good. But how has Scenario Planning changed in the wake of 2020? We think it has, in three fundamental ways:
1. Shifting mindsets – we are seeing renewed interest in leadership mindsets, not as part of leadership development per se, but as a coherent part of strategy making. For us to challenge our assumptions, we must first see the lenses through which our assumptions form, and become more aware and (importantly!) more adept at shifting our mindsets. The practice of recognizing and shifting our mindsets, is becoming an accepted part of the strategy process.
2. Challenging assumptions – What was once a distant element of strategy making, has developed from an ‘art form’, practiced by the few, to a core skill, which we can learn and utilise.
3. Delving deeper – As uncertainty grew and we began to grapple with scenarios that are further away from the most plausible ones – the ones we perhaps envisioned in 2019, we step beyond extrapolating existing trends and firm assumptions , into multiple signals, which do not follow a linear path, and which give rise to more imaginative, bolder and at time, surprisingly opportune outcomes.
We have a term for all this – Beyond Scenarios. Join us at #beyondscenarios on LinkedIn for more on how we can step beyond traditional scenario building, into a space where vivid imagination, data analytics and robust conversations reside. It’s Scenario Planning – done differently! Share from your experience with scenarios in the current environment and join in the conversation.
Have a good weekend everyone!
Saar Ben-Attar (Chief Instigator)
Scenarios: Looking for Alternatives
Adopting a beginner’s mindset
Think Again by well-known author Adam Grant