Scenario Planning – Learning from Different Perspectives

Scenario Planning – Learning from Different Perspectives

Scenario Planning – Learning from Different Perspectives



Thinking about a goal, challenge or problem from different perspectives can provide a greater variety of potential solutions and actions. And you can leverage this creative advantage in preparing for the future, as well as implementing strategies in the present, using strategic foresight and scenario planning.

In the July – August 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review, a few months into the Covid pandemic, an article by J. Peter Scoblic, Learning from the Future – How to make robust strategy in times of deep uncertainty details how scenario planning is used in the US Coast Guard to plan for the future and implement new strategies in the present.

Scoblic identifies the concept of “Strategic Foresight” as the guiding principle driving scenario planning. He writes that “Its aim is not to predict the future but rather to make it possible to imagine multiple futures in creative ways that heighten our ability to sense, shape, and adapt to what happens in the years ahead. Strategic foresight doesn’t help us figure out what to think about the future. It helps us figure out how to think about it.”

Scenario planning becomes a powerful tool for thinking from different perspectives. The process includes thinking about what the future might look like in 5, 10 or 20 years. You are considering what trends and situations might shape how you operate in the future. Then you imagine what might a variety of futures look like and how you would be thinking and operating in those future scenarios. Finally, you are deciding on what strategies would help prepare your organization for that potential future.

In his article, Scoblic highlights how the US Coast Guard has been using scenario planning starting in the late 1990s. Rather than being a one-time exercise, it is a continuous improvement process that regularly considers the future needs of the organization and how to prepare now. The Coast Guard’s “goal was to get its personnel thinking about the future in a way that would inform and improve their ability to operate in the present.”

A result of ongoing scenario planning was the Coast Guard’s ability to coordinate efforts in New York City during 9/11 when they needed to help thousands of people to leave lower Manhattan, many of them by boat. The Coast Guard was able to implement a plan that called on both public and private watercraft to help with the evacuation.

One of the crucial aspects of leveraging scenario planning is reordering our concept of time. Rather than thinking of time as a strictly linear past – present – future, scenario planning asks us to first consider what the future might look like and how we would act in that future and then what strategies are needed in the present to be prepared for that future.

And as the future becomes the present what new futures do we need to consider? Reimagining time as a loop in which we can bring thinking about a potential future into how we change the present requires thinking from multiple perspectives.

I recommend that you read Scoblic’s complete article to learn more about these concepts. One final thought from the article, “If companies want to make effective strategy in the face of uncertainty, they need to set up a process of constant exploration—one that allows top managers to build permanent but flexible bridges between their actions in the present and their thinking about the future. What’s necessary, in short, is not just imagination but the institutionalization of imagination. That is the essence of strategic foresight.

Super-Leaders can invest in themselves by increasing their skills in investing time in strategic thinking, considering situations from multiple perspectives and using tools like scenario planning to support successful achievement of goals now and in the future.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.