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Book Notes: “The Art of the Long View” (Part 2) by Carlos Aboitiz

art of long viewHere is the second part of Carlos Aboitiz‘s book summary of Peter Schwartz’s “The Art of the Long View”. 


(Click here to read Part 1)


Creating Scenario Building Blocks

The process of building scenarios starts with looking for driving forces; the forces that influence the outcome of events. They are a device for honing your initial judgment, for helping you decide which factors will be significant and which factors will not. Whenever I look for driving forces I first run through a familiar litany of categories: Society, Technology, Economics, Politics, and Environment.

From there, we focus on the driving forces that we consider predetermined elements (what we know we know) and the critical uncertainties.

• Predetermined elements

Useful strategies for looking for them:

– Slow-chasing phenomena: demographics, the building of physical infrastructure, development of resources
– Constrained situations: resource constraints, etc.
– In the pipeline: future demographics
– Inevitable collisions

• Critical Uncertainties

Intimately related to pre-determined elements. You find them by questioning your assumptions about predetermined elements


Composing a Plot

To explain the future, scenarios use logics (the plot which ties together the elements in the system). They describe how the driving forces might plausibly behave. Scenarios explore two or three of those alternatives, based on the plots that are most worth considering.

How to find the plot line? Research. Gather the team together. Answer the questions: What are the driving forces? What do you feel is uncertain? What is inevitable? How about this or that scenario?

I often compare this part of the scenario process to writing a movie script. In most good scenarios, several plot lines intersect.

When constructing plots, the trick is deciding where in the story to start diverging alternative futures.

In scenarios for a company, you should design at least one alternative that frightens the management enough to think, but not so much that they shut down. Your goal is to select plotlines that lead to different choices for the original decision.

Note that characters in scenarios tend to be driving forces or institutions. Leaders tend to be an expression of the forces at work in their own societies.

Why two or three plots or logics? Because people’s minds can cope with only two or three possibilities. On rare occasions, you may consider four.

There is a common trap with three scenarios: it is easy to offer a bland assortment of the high road, the middle road, and the low road. To avoid this, I return to the decision that must be made and ask whether there are any uncertainties that would change my decisions. I try to make the third path a little bit off-the-wall.

Experience has shown that there tend to be three more common plots:

Winners and Loser
— This plot starts with the perception that the world is essentially limited, that resources are scarce, and that if one side gets richer, the other side must get poorer (zero-sum game)
— Conflict is inevitable
— Winners and losers plots lead to covert alliances. Who you’re involved with is more important than what you hope to achieve politically
— This leads to unlikely alliances (the enemy of my enemy is my friend)
— Conspiracy theories are used

Challenge and Response
— We may see events bring us to the brink, but the system itself won’t fail. Instead, it will evolve further with each new challenge and response
— The term “challenge and response” comes from historian Arnold Toynbee. In adventure stories, an individual faces one unexpected test after another. Each time he emerges differently from the way he was before
— Historically, people discussing the environment and the economy were stuck in polarized positions, as it was viewed as a zero-sum game
— Today, the logics of “sustainable development” suggests that both economic growth and environmental quality are possible

— Evolutionary changes are hard to spot because they take place so slowly
— The most common evolutionary plot in the world today is technology – new technologies grow in a biological fashion and because new tools fit within an existing system

In addition to these main plots, there are others such as revolution, cycles, infinite possibilities, the Lone Ranger, and my generation.


The World in 2005: Three Scenarios

Driving Forces:

• Shuffling Political Alignments
• Technology Explosion
• Global Pragmatism
• Demographics
• Energy
• Environment
• Global Information Economy


Rehearsing the Future

Using scenarios is rehearsing the future. The “performance” of a scenario will take you once again to your original question.

There is an almost irresistible temptation to choose one scenario over the other. Unfortunately, reality does not follow even the best-thought-out scenario. The point of scenario planning is to help suspend our disbelief in all the future: to allow us to think that any one of them might take place. Then we can prepare for what we don’t think is going to happen.

Similarly, many people don’t want to see only the upside. People call optimistic scenarios “unrealistic”, and since it’s a crime in business to be unrealistic, the scenario is often discarded. Roleplaying each scenario is useful; it would show exactly why the “official future” is unlikely.

Look for warning signs in advance in order to help decide which scenario is coming to pass.

The name of any scenario carries a long of freight. I always try to choose the name for each scenario so it condenses a fully delineated story’s essence into a few words.



Click below for Part 1

Book Notes: “The Art of the Long View” (Part 1 of 2) by Carlos Aboitiz