Scenarios & Stories

June 27, 2002

in Brand Futures, Storytelling, Strategic Foresight

Another positing from the online converation with Terrence L. Gargiulo and Making Stories A Practical Guide for Organizational Leaders and Human Resource Specialists.

I wonder… How many of you would jump on a 747 with a pilot that had never trained in a flight simulator? We know that pilots train in simulators on the ground to better prepare themselves for eventualities and challenges that many never happen. They also train for landings at airports that will appear on their schedules in the future. Unfortunately few teams have the opportunity provided by the flight simulator.

I tend to think of scenarios as a flight simulator for management. Framed well they are hypothesis of alternate environments in which our decisions may have to play out. They do not represent the future story of the company. By windtunnelling (or testing) current strategies against a range of alternate scenarios an organization improves its potential to minimize risk. Scenarios need to be customized to context if they are to be useful.

Scenarios as a form of story-telling work because they are framed around critical uncertainties (simplistic example – boom or bust economy). By building scenarios around uncertainty we are 1)opening and focusing minds on what is both important to the issue at hand and uncertain as to outcome. 2)critical uncertainties are more likely to take us to the edge of chaos where new ideas, solutions etc are most likely to emerge. 3)Scenarios must be plausible, therefore drilling down to changes in the sytemic underpinnings is important to building understanding and retaining credibilty. In this form they provide story telling and structure that not only helps to minimize risk about the decisions we must make today, but they are used to accelerate learning. When we accept that Planning is learning, (not extrapolation)then we also embrace that it may be the only way to sustainable competitive advantage.

As an organization (like the pilot) reacts to new inputs, better questions are what sustains success. The future is inherently unpredictable. Yet with very little effort we can bring in stories from the outside – so we think better inside the box. In a networked world — connectivity is driving this. If you are a cellular carrier you better be thinking about swarms, if you are a health provider, genetic testing is already here. If you are a cotton producer, perhaps you should look at goat silk. From time to time an organization should look at everything, a “ruthless curiosity” is healthy. If stories and hypothesis get you to where you can really “listen” then success in the marketplace is much more viable. Scenarios are just one tool for getting us

I agree Stephen with your comment to find a star to peg future stories. I’ve always felt that the 1 to 2 word strategic intent was the right way to go. They work when stretch is involved. Effective leaders also cut the time for delivery. A yet they are also falible. Years ago Motorola – Wireless World (It led them to Irridium!)Motorola was so focused on their story they didn’t pay attention to the Nokia’s etc of the world. More recently Motorola has use “Intelligence Everywhere” For my two cents another example of introverted disaster. There is no benefit for “us” in this. Many of the early ad campaigns were close to I spy.

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