Today is unprecedented. My friends, colleagues, loved ones—myself included—are finding themselves in a spectrum of bewilderment at how the pandemic is unfolding. We’re encountering the very real, and very rapid effects that are shifting our social and familial worlds, confronting our governments, and grappling with our markets.
In the mix of all of this, we want to talk a little bit about the future. While we can’t predict the future, we’re confident that states of emergency will end, nations and countries will persevere, and we’ll begin to see what new normals might look like in the future.
At Overlap, we use a method called Scenario Planning as our primary tool in our Strategic Foresight practice. Scenario Planning, and more generally, Strategic Foresight isn’t about “predicting” the future. That’s more for the psychics and fortune-tellers of the world and we don’t have any of those at Overlap. In lieu of that, Scenario Planning gives us artifacts in the form of scenarios—descriptions, narrative, and vivid detail—set 20-30 years in alternate futures. Using these scenarios as tools, they provide a foundation for strategic planning that persevere into greater uncertainty. It may seem grandiose, but we do it for some key reasons:
It helps us see multiple, plural futures.
One of my favourite quotes from Jim Dator, the Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies is, “The future does not exist” (Dator, 2019). By definition, the future exists outside of our living reality and is in constant flux and creation—an individual cannot own the future. Rather than seeing the singular future, scenario planning helps us envision alternate scenarios of the future combining multiple viewpoints. When we design these scenarios with diversity and plurality in mind, we can ask better questions and challenge our assumptions of what new living future realities might look like.
It helps us zoom out.
Quite rapidly, we’re beginning to see that our world is more interconnected than we understand. There are greater shifts and forces happening all around us, and we use scenario planning as a way to channel our awareness into something useful. To develop scenarios, we curate a library of trends that bring together signals of change in the world across different sectors—from changes like the emergence of artificial intelligence to changes like the shifts in rural farming communities. When we surface these trends for organizations, it brings our peripheries into vision. Often in these peripheries, we find the macro forces that shape the living contexts of our organizations.
It helps us prepare.
A lot of things are unexpected, and that’s the rhythm of life—at least that’s what I’m told. There are a lot of unknowns at this time and there will be more unknowns in the immediate and far future. Scenario planning is one of the ways that helps move us during uncertainty rather than be paralyzed by it. The process can illuminate the potentials that we weren’t paying attention to before. Data informed “what-ifs” get asked and well-considered “maybes” get thrown into the process. As we create plans and ask about the strategic implications of these alternate scenarios, we become better prepared to face the unexpected.
It gives us a little hope.
At the end of a scenario planning process, we end up with four distinct futures. Within those scenarios, there’s typically one that depicts a dystopia future—an image of a world in collapse. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s typically an image of a world in fruition that aligns with the goals of the organization. Scenario planning gives us a little movement—a tiny bit of oscillation—to look at both and lots in between. For the steadfast idealist, the future of collapse can provide a thoughtful consideration of the wrongs that can surface. For the doomsday prepper, the future of fruition can provide a profound relief at the resilience of people. Scenario planning helps us imagine futures beyond ourselves, and in the little movement it provides, we can begin imagining more possibilities, obstacles, and potentials as we take our days step by step.
Interested in more?
- Watch a recording of our Scenario Planning webinar at any time.
- Get in touch to talk to us about how Scenario Planning can be applied to your organization.
Dator, J. (2019). What futures studies is, and is not. In Jim Dator: A Noticer in Time (pp. 3-5). Springer, Cham.