I am often asked what value scenario planning brings to the strategic planning process. I have outlined six ways that scenario planning can enhance not only your scenario planning process, but increase your leadership capacity and agility as well.
1. Building a Consensus Reality
Many boards and teams of executives focus so much on getting done what needs to get done that they don’t spend time talking to each other about how they view the world. This can result in very dysfunctional meetings and poor, contentious decision making. Because scenarios force organizations to examine uncertainty closely, those involved in that exercise end up agreeing on at least what they don’t know, and that is a starting point for building better futures.
2. Challenge Assumptions
Forming a consensus reality, in other words, understanding where everyone is coming from, gets you only part way to creative strategic dialog. Scenarios take the next step by creating a non-political environment for challenging assumptions and biases that might otherwise make it into the plan unnoticed. Using scenarios, individuals can see common issues and opportunities from new perspectives.
3. Identify New Opportunities
As participants explore concepts, technologies, processes and other elements of their organization and industry from multiple perspectives, they will make new connections and see those that might not be evident from their current POV—this can lead to new opportunities being identified during the process. New strategies will suggest themselves during this process.
4. Drive Innovation
If you only look at your challenges and opportunities from one perspective, then you are likely going to come up with the same solutions over and over again, perhaps even get frustrated that you keep suggesting the same strategy without the organization doing anything about it. Part of that frustration comes because you don’t have a shared reality with your peers (addressed above) but it also comes from a lack of facilitated perspective. Regardless of how you want the world to turn out, if you admit that certain major elements remain uncertain, then looking at them through the lens of what you want vs. what might be, is dangerous management practice. As soon as you start seeing the world through different lens, new ways of solving problems will emerge. These new solutions can offer innovative insights that can help transform your products, processes or services.
5. Facilitate Adaptation
If you only think about the world in one way, your mind, like your body sitting in chair too long, will conform to its constraints. Scenario planning forces people out of their mental constraints. The scenarios themselves may not always be accurate or prescient, but they will always help people exercise mental agility, and that is a good way for people to practice change, perhaps even anticipate it.
6. Understand Your Place in the World (the Future)
Most planning focuses on the here and now extrapolated forward. But our worlds live in context, which means their successes and the futures are dependent on factors that can’t be controlled. Our place in the world is a combination of our local context and the world around it. Scenarios help describe the current context by naming and characterizing the uncertainties we face, but it also helps explore the context of the future so that forward looking plans aren’t just extrapolations of the status quo, but well-designed and tested ideas that can be resilient in the face of change.