If there is one thing that the last few years have taught us, it’s that without proper planning and preparation for the future, we are left blindsided and unprepared and we take longer to respond. The pandemic came out of the blue and threw us into a changed world overnight.
“If you cannot accurately predict the future, then you must flexibly be prepared to deal with various possible futures.” Once said Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking.
So how can we prepare for the future, for the various possibilities?
We need to stay exploratory in nature. Many businesses’ workforces remain atomised as they continue to work within a WFH business model. When a workforce is atomised, we do not benefit from the synergy of bringing people together on a daily basis. How can we reconnect people again and re-engage them? One way to do this is to get them together to reconnect them to the bigger picture.
Businesses need to look both internally and externally to do this effectively. Those businesses that don’t map out the future possibilities of what can happen externally will be left blindsided and unable to move with agility to adapt.
Planning for the future
It’s impossible to know what to expect in the future. But in an effort to prepare better for the various possible outcomes in the future and reconnect people to the bigger purpose, we work with our clients to develop scenario mapping. Without scenario mapping, people and businesses become stuck in a particular map in their heads about what will happen in our particular industry. The drawback is the more attached to the maps they get, the more brittle they are and the more likely to be blindsided by something that they can’t possibly predict. Like the pandemic. Scenario mapping helps people and businesses stay open-minded and stay exploratory, rather than being of a fixed mindset. And the great thing is we are hard-wired to do so.
One of the many things that separates us from other animals is our ability to run scenarios in our mind. Dr. William Calvin in his books The Cerebral Symphony and The Ascent of Mind suggests that the ability to run scenarios is part of who we are. In fact, we cannot not do it.
We are regularly considering ‘what if.’
In scenario mapping sessions, we begin by picking an area to explore. What is the strategy for our business? What environment is our organisation going to be operating in, in the near future. To become clear on this, you need to identify what the variables are. These could be:
- Organisations centralise or they decentralise.
- Technology impacts
- Economy may boom or decline.
- Societies may move to the left and become more community focussed; or they move to the right and become more individualistic.
- We have a limited pile of resources but lots of places to put them.
Once you have these variables, you pick the two that you think are going to have the most impact on your business, so you have an X and Y axis. Within the axes, you then have four possible “worlds” that you can visualise and prepare for.
Once you have your map, consider the following questions:
- What evidence would we have that would suggest the market is headed in a ‘north easterly’ direction? How could we capitalise on that?
- What evidence would we have that would suggest the market is headed in a ‘north westerly’ direction? How could we capitalise on that?
- What evidence would we have that would suggest the market is headed in a ‘south easterly’ direction? How could we capitalise on that?
- What evidence would we have that would suggest the market is headed in a ‘south westerly’ direction? How could we capitalise on that?
The future is not guaranteed
What’s most interesting is that in the process of mapping out these scenarios and possible future ‘worlds’ it becomes apparent that really, … we just don’t know. It’s a humbling experience. And a reminder that the future is out of our hands, we cannot fully prepare for the future and we don’t know what direction the future will go in. But having four possible outcomes and mapping out each of these helps us stay flexible and agile and more able to quickly adapt to events rather than being completely unprepared.
What scenario mapping can do is provide us with a narrative that we can use to shape the direction of the future but it doesn’t guarantee anything.
When JF Kennedy announced to the world the plan to send a man to the moon and bring them back again, what the narrative did is shift the future. And the future changed in that moment. What scenario mapping can do is provide us with a narrative we can use to help shape the future.
I’d love to help your business prepare some scenario mapping to help you stay agile and ready to face an uncertain future.
Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you.
Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.