A recent opinion article in New Scientist got me thinking about the influences of strategy. In this article, How social mood moves the world, John Casti explores how many things, including the behavior of the stock market, elections and buying behavior, reflect the mood of the consumer. This is yet another factor that must be factored into strategic planning, especially scenario planning. Why? Because we are asking people to look to the future and provide their opinions about certain aspects of the future, and the importance of those factors. If people have “caught” a negative mood from general society, they might unwittingly overly attribute negative (or positive) attitudes to a concept, like globalization.
In the middle of the recession, many Americans started moving toward a more nationalistic, isolationist stance. A return to jobs in America. A pull back from globalization. If we are planning for the future, the future of globalization may cause participants to spend additional time to transform it from an uncertainty to a certainty. This is an important point for the facilitator. When this kind of behavior is detected, it is important that the general character of the uncertainty be retained, and the auxiliary concerns about the topic, be captured, but quickly moved on from unless they reveal other uncertainties. This is not just about negative perceptions. Mood is a factor in the dot com run up, the housing boom and other activities where “irrational exuberance” prevails for a time. Predictions about technology are commonly overly optimistic in some areas, and seemingly naively short-sighted in others. Apple’s iPad, for instance, with 2M units sold, is the result of years of user interface improvements by Apple that have turned the iPad into an “overnight success.” Planners must be looking for incremental innovation and their accumulated influence, not just for disruptive breakthroughs that are unseen. Mood can force one to look too hard and hard things, and not hard enough at softer signals.
So when running a strategic planning exercise, make sure that you consider the current mood of the audience. A session being run while a stock price is rapidly falling, or a huge oil leak is fouling the coasts of your largest customer, will probably find certain areas susceptible to mood factors. As the facilitator, you need to figure out how to filter these out. Here are a couple of hints:
- Capture ideas quickly and leave analysis to breaks and later discussion
- If something is being discussed in-depth either negatively or positively, suggest that it become an uncertainty and user exercise time to define polarities. Don’t let the mood skew the uncertainty in an overly positive or negative way
- Use history to bring reality to the situation. Bring up similar issues and contexts to demonstrate how mood may be affecting decisions and analysis
- Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get people to be open minded and receptive. Mood is not a rational factor. Mood changes in society and business with almost as much urgency as it changes in individuals. You have to work with your clients where they are, not where you wish they were. Be patient.