Of all the things I have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the one that sticks out the most is that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” The situation is fluid. It reminds me of so many business situations where we think we know the answers, but most of the time, we don’t even know the question.
That is why scenario planning is a better approach than trying to follow predictive models. At their best, predictive models are wrong most of the time. Scenario Planning seeks to develop memories of potential future outcomes or events in order for individuals and companies to work in an “if this-then that” model. So, how does one develop the skills to begin thinking in scenarios?
In his seminal book, “The Living Company,” Arie DeGues describes scenario planning as developing memories of the future. He believes that to be successful, companies and individuals must develop the ability to see something of interest in the environment. From this insight, companies and individuals can envision scenarios and understand variables that could affect them positively or negatively. Developing a mindset to see future events and then knowing the alternative actions for the event develops a collective “muscle memory” or subconscious action. One of the examples cited by those who teach scenario planning is the process of driving to work on the freeway. If there is a traffic backup or an accident, most people already know the alternate route. They also know generally how long it will take if they just stay in the traffic. These subconscious actions are the memories of the future derived from experience.
How does a business develop this same type of understanding of the future? Following are a few thoughts. And in these times of continual change, staying fluid is key.
Set a vision for your business.
Vision is the key to running any business. A strong vision provides the binder in which all can rally. A vision becomes the organization’s direction and forms the roadmap for success. It informs the organization’s strategy and the various scenarios to be contemplated. Start big and stay big. If your vision is not blurry, it might just be a goal. A vision should stretch your organization and the people within it.
What opportunities exist in the marketplace the can move you in the direction of your firm’s vision? Think of all opportunities and use good brainstorming techniques—meaning do not analyze during the brainstorming process. Put all of the ideas, unfiltered on paper as there will be plenty of time to evaluate and review to determine their viability. After you have exhausted opportunities, begin the review process. Sift through the opportunities to identify your top three for inclusion into your strategy. More than three will make it difficult to consider fully and eventually implement.
Identify alternate futures.
The next step is to use your three opportunities as a basis to discuss alternate futures. What would your organization’s future look like if the opportunity is full developed and works? What does the future look like if it doesn’t? Are there specific insights or metrics that can tell you when things are working or not? Spend the time needed to think deeply about these futures as this is where memories of the future are developed.
Develop pivot points.
Using the information learned in your dialogue sessions, think of the points in time that may cause you to pivot and refocus. This is the “if this-then that” development that is critical to make the scenario plans actionable and alive. Timing is everything and spending yours to identify the appropriate times for implementing strategy will pay dividends. This is not meant to keep you from acting, but to try to have your firm think before acting in lieu of the other.
Staying fluid, developing memories of the future and developing collective insight is the key in business and scenarios help us prepare.
If you need help developing this process, give me a call. I can help you position your organization for the future.
Craig S. Galati is a Principal and Shareholder of LGA. His strength lies in helping his team create memorable experiences through design. Through his passion for workshop facilitation and public outreach, Craig has provided invaluable clarity and direction to multiple public and private organizations. Craig is an accomplished speaker and has worked with many organizations on leadership and strategy.