Powerfully Imagined and Rigorously Researched: The Structure of Scenario Thinking

The eternal yin and yang of the scenario planning discipline is to create scenarios that stretch the imagination and broaden the thinking of the users (internal or external clients, stakeholders outside the organization, or individuals making decisions), while remaining sufficiently grounded and plausible so as to be usable and actionable. Striking the right balance is key, and it is the difference between a fruitful intervention and a digression into easily dismissed fantasy. It’s not often that management consultants are compared to artists, but successful scenario planning is about truly finding the right blend of art and science to construct alternative visions of the future.

First, the art. One of the most difficult elements of a scenario planning exercise, a challenge usually encountered at the very beginning, is to persuade the participants that we are not in the business of predicting or forecasting the future. It’s always rewarding when one of the scenarios that you outlined does in fact largely manifest itself in actual events, as was the case with the Castles and Moats scenario I developed for my earlier book World Out of Balance, but the goal of prediction cannot be the primary objective of scenario planning. (Although I must note that a colleague recently approached me on a trip to New Delhi, and told me that having recently re-read World Out of Balance, he couldn’t believe how well we ...

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