Earlier this year, I read Peter Schwartz’s book, “The Art of the Long View”. The book is a must-read for scenario planning practitioners and anybody that is interested in using scenario planning to improve their business’ strategic conversations. Peter Schwartz is an American futurist who headed Shell’s scenario planning team, co-founded the Global Business Network (GBN), and is now working at Salesforce.com.
This book provides a powerful set of concepts that can change the way we in Aboitiz plan for the future. It talks about the role of stories in strategy, the value of probing the fringes to detect early warning signs, and the importance of challenging our own assumptions in order to better prepare ourselves for the future.
Below, you will find my book notes. I am by no means an expert on this topic, only a keen student. I would invite you to share your reflections and experiences (if any) so that we can learn together.
What is a scenario? It is a tool for ordering one’s perceptions about alternative future environments in which one’s decisions might be played out. In other words, it is a set of organized ways for us to dream effectively about our own future. Scenarios are not conceived of one at a time. You typically develop a range of two or three potential futures.
The scenario process broadly follows three key steps: first, we isolate the decision we want / make, then we identify the key factors that would affect these decisions, and then we rehearse the implications.
Scenario thinking is an art, not a science. You will find yourself moving through the process several times, refining it as you go along. The order of the steps mentioned above may be muddled.
The Scenario-Building Animal
Scenarios can be thought of as “memories of the future.” Scenarios are not about predicting the future, rather they are about perceiving futures in the present.
Scenarios use stories to articulate possible futures. Stories can be a powerful way of avoiding the dangers of denial. In theatre, the “willing suspension of disbelief” is what the play prompts from an audience. Everyone in the theatre knows that he is seeing actors before a painted backdrop but — for the purposes of emotion and understanding — the viewers react as if they are seeing the real world. A good scenario, similarly, asks people to suspend their disbelief in its stories long enough to appreciate their impact.
Scenarios deal with two worlds — the world of facts and the world of perceptions. They explore for facts but they aim at perceptions inside the heads of decision-makers.
Stories are an old way of organizing knowledge. Stories have advantages: they allow people to describe how different characters see the meaning of events. They help people cope with complexity.
Scenarios are stories that give meaning to events. The point of scenarios is to imagine attitudes of key players who will affect future events.
Myths are “the way things are” as people in a particular society believe them to be; and they are the models people refer to when they try to understand their world and its behavior. Myths are the patterns -of behavior, of belief, and of perception- which people have in common. Myths are not deliberately, or necessarily consciously, fictitious.
Uncovering the Decision
Mindsets tend to keep us from seeing the appropriate questions to ask about a decision. Thus, every scenario effort begins by looking inward. You begin by examining the mindsets that you personally use – consciously or unconsciously – to make judgments about the future.
Frequently, people develop scenarios for a small, focused situation and discover that much larger issues affect it. Narrow questions can be made irrelevant by broader contextual changes. Keep this in mind.
Information Hunting and Gathering
Scenarios work because people recognize the truth in a description of future events. Observations from the real world must be built into the story.
Even your specific purpose in any research project is tagged to your inbred assumptions. You must seek out facts and perceptions that challenge those assumptions. You must look for disconfirming evidence.
Being a scenario planner means becoming aware of one’s filter and continually readjusting it to let in more data about the world, but without becoming overwhelmed.
Futurists talk about having their “radar” out. This means frequently sending out signals and seeing what comes back. Moreover, you try different “frequencies” – “If I were a Soviet economist…” or “If I were a teenager in the world today…”
The following targets and tactics are useful ways of readjusting your filter and sending out signals:
Targets: What to look for (Recurring subjects)
• Science and technology
• Perception-shaping events
If television suggests what people are perceiving, music shows what they are feeling
Scenario researchers train themselves to look at the world as horses do (using peripheral vision): because new knowledge develops at the fringes
The fringe changes and even varies depending on the situation. One group’s fringe can be another one’s center.
As you investigate the fringes, you develop a sense about which people are intellectual pathfinders and which are crackpots. You can sometimes recognize pathfinders by their energy and humor.
Tactics: Where to Look
• Remarkable People
Whose thinking is unorthodox?
How to connect with these unusual thinkers?
– Read and contact (via writing)
– Seek contacts through friends
• Individuals and small businesses have an advantage – they don’t expect you to pay
• When contacting others it is often useful to put a hint of your own work and insights
• Source of surprise
– Make time to read outside of your immediate specialty
– What I look for in new books are surprises – perceptions that are new to me, that then become part of my own perception
– As important as reading books is knowing what books have been published. New York Times Book Review is a good source.
– Filters act on your behalf, discarding everything but the information that might be of interest to you
– Discover, Wired, Foreign Affairs, Future Survey, Granta, Harper’s, The Manchester Guardian Weekly, Mondo 2000, The New Yorker, New Options, New Scientist, NYT, Omni, Scientific American, Science, Technology Review, Utne Reader, Washington Spectator, Whole Earth Review
• Universities, TV stations, friends, strangers
• Immersion in Challenging Environments
• Travel is the single best way to immerse yourself in unfamiliarity – to force yourself to adopt an alien point of view
• Networked Sensibilities