Ready to Challenge "Business as Usual"?
Why And How Scenarios Matter
November 6, 2017, Willow Pryor
When we start to challenge business as usual and the ‘way we do things around here’, alternative futures can be revealed, like hidden worlds coming into view. We move from this idea of the default future, one future as an extension of now, to many.
Explored systematically the result can be alternative futures or scenarios that can foster organisational learning and lead to better decision making. In this way, exploring alternative futures – futures plural - then can be an integral aspect of flexing your organisational muscles and becoming fit for the future.
Why do scenarios matter?
In a recent article in the Financial Times, Josef Hargrave, Global Foresight Manager at engineering consultancy Arup, said regarding the practice of strategic foresight: “It is not about predicting things. It is more about thinking about the possibilities and raising the awareness and ability of the company to adapt”. While this is true, the practice of strategic foresight – of which scenario planning is a key tool – can also potentially lead to decision making that goes beyond adaptation to a more proactive shaping of the future.
Professor Sohail Inayatullah goes as far as saying that “futures thinking helps create the conditions for a paradigm shift. The organisation imagines a new future, creates a new strategy, enables stakeholders, uses tools and then a new future emerges.”
More specifically, the practice of developing scenarios is about exploring a range of possible pathways for an organisations future. You can get an overview of different types of scenarios from Professor Sohail Inayatullah here, if you want to learn more.
Scenarios can inform several different areas within your organisation from strategy to management and R&D. Taking a step back though, it is the process that is as often as valuable as the output, especially in a world where we are trying to make sense of whole new levels of complexity.
The ideal way of using scenario planning
While scenarios can be used as a stand-alone tool, I think I can confidently say that a number of futurists agree that scenario planning is most effective when used in conjunction with other fit -for-purpose foresight methods and, more importantly, when used in an action learning context.
Including a diversity of actors in a scenario planning process, that includes an action learning component, adds several key benefits. Multiple perspectives from multiple stakeholders can more effectively challenge “business as usual” assumptions, both implicit and explicit, and lead to a greater sense of agency amongst individual actors.
As Robert Burke, former CEO of Century Mines and Car Lovers – that is, a user of scenario planning – and now Director of Programs at Mt Eliza Executive Education, Melbourne Business School, says, scenario planning is “(…) about having deeper, more effective conversations about worlds we wish to create”. When these deeper, facilitated conversations take place there is a process of collective sense-making that can occur, along with the formation of a common language, an integral component of becoming a learning organisation ready to meet new challenges.
It doesn’t end here though. Keeping an eye on the future and emerging trends needs to be an ongoing activity within your organisation. Collaborate once a year to refine your scenarios and ask, do they still hold true? What elements of the scenarios are mostly likely to come to life? Where do we need to act?
This is all part of being a learning organisation that is willing to challenge the status quo and explore hidden landscapes that may lie just around the corner.
Willow Pryor, MSF (strat for), is a professional futurist with a focus on consulting, facilitation of futures thinking workshops, speaking and teaching strategic foresight to enable the creation of alternative futures. Willow has worked with a range of public, private and for purpose organisations. She believes that to create more equitable and sustainable futures our leaders, young and old need to think like futurists. To get in contact with Willow, email her on: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her LinkedIn profile.