Businesses can’t predict the future, but they can – and should – be better prepared for it. With disruption and uncertainty our “new normal,” leaders are challenged to accurately decipher and respond to rapidly changing circumstances with greater foresight and increased agility. How? Salesforce.com executive and renowned futurist Peter Schwartz points to a powerful tool that already exists for helping connect the world of “what ifs” with down-to-earth decision making: scenario planning.
“We make plans again and again as if the world of tomorrow is going to be just like yesterday, but surprises are inevitable,” argues Schwartz, who leads strategic planning initiatives for salesforce.com, named the world’s most innovative company for the third year in a row by Forbes. By imagining the unimaginable, he says, businesses can create alternative scenarios to help stretch the thinking of the leadership team and develop contingencies for when the ‘official future’ doesn’t pan out.
Rich, data-driven stories about tomorrow that address important, immediate choices, scenarios can help leaders make sense of the complex drivers of change and the implications they carry for businesses. It’s a strategy that clearly works for salesforce.com and one that is recognized for strengthening the preparedness and competitive positioning of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, where Schwartz helped pioneer the use of scenarios in the 1980s.
Scenario planning is not about getting the future right, says Schwartz – whose book, “The Art of the Long View,” is considered the seminal publication on the topic – but about making better decisions today. Good scenarios force us to confront radical or controversial possibilities, provide a coherent framework to help make sense of the complexity around us, explore alternate realities systematically, and extend the boundaries of plausibility.
It’s not a new concept, but as the world becomes more crowded and complex, it is one whose relevancy and value for helping drive world-class innovation and revenue growth has never been more apparent.