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Is there evidence that foresight works?

May 24, 2017

We were asked the other day – what is the evidence that foresight works? Particularly, does scenario planning lead to better outcomes? Why should an organisation engage in this sort of thinking?

The importance of the question – and that it can be answered – is highlighted by the recent McKinsey report on Long Term Thinking – see The report has led to the launch of an index of long time horizon companies, as evidenced by their public reports relating to investment, earning growth, margin growth, quarterly management and earning per shares growth. And of course a long tem view needs supporting by a view of what futures might hold. So how do organisations improve their view of futures?

As Business Schools have increased their footprint, many managers have been exposed to scenario planning as a tool for strategic thinking. While there are many variants of scenario thinking and many other tool sets – see for instance Patricia Lustig’s “Strategic Foresight” – – scenario planning has been the most widely used methodology. I first came across scenarios when I was asked to take a strategy role at ICL and found that nobody had a view of where the IT industry was going and wrote up my experience in “Scenario Planning: Managing for the Future”, see

SAMI has of course many case studies on our web site which together build a picture of what works and what does not, as does the literature based on the Shell experience eg

Another perspective can be found in “Scenario projects in Japanese government: Twenty years of experience, five tales from the front line” which can be found at

Directly tackling the evidence through evaluation in different environments, we know of a classic book on the use of Foresight in Research – which for instance evaluated how to get better results from Delphi following 25 years of experience in Japan – Research Foresight, Ben R Martin and John Irvine, Pinter, 1989. A more recent article is Martin, Ben (2010) The origins of the concept of `foresight’ in science and technology: an insider’s perspective. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77 (9). pp. 1438-47. ISSN 0040-1625

A paper evaluating corporate performance linked with foresight is

Professor Gerard Hodgkinson’s article on scenario planning discusses the role of scenario thinking in attenuating biases.

And Philip Tetlock’s work on Forecasting in Superforecasting, Crown, 2015, develops mental tools for improving the accuracy of forecasts (here mainly over the near term) which coincides with Japanese results above – diversity leads to better results. An HBR article summarising it is .

To find out more, SAMI is running a number of training courses on aspects of foresight throughout the year – details can be found on

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow and CEO.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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Moving the Financial Resilience debate forwards

May 17, 2017

Now that the dust has settled after the consultations on the Green Paper and the new single financial guidance body (SFGB) it is time to look forward to how we can make progress towards making the households of the UK resilient in the event of sickness absence.

The facts are stark. 1.8 million people are off work sick for more than 4 weeks in any given year; 70% of longer term absence is in those employed by SMEs and 60% of absence is accounted for by women.

Yet 2016 MAS research shows that over 16 million people have savings under £100 and only around 3 million people are covered by IP bought by themselves or their employer. The scope for growing this market is huge.

So what next. First we need the Government to set up a high profile task force to support increased household resilience and make people aware of the options that are open to them.

The task force should be broad based and besides government it should include MAS (and the SFGB when it comes into being); employers; distributors; the FCA; charities; health and rehabilitation providers and NHS commissioners and insurers.

The creation of such a task force would fit well with the SFGB if the new body were to be given a statutory objective to improve household resilience against income shocks.

This should include those who are just about managing now plus others who are managing now but would not be able to do so when an income shock hits them.

Analysis of data from LV= shows a third of IIP polices are held by people earning below the national average, with 60% being held by basic rate tax-payers. This belies the myth that IP is only suitable for rich people.

The Government and the SFGB need to take pro-active and concerted action to achieve a step-change in resilience through national leadership to bring together the many agencies, businesses and third sector organisations that can play a role and to use their independence and authority to communicate the need for people to plan for income shocks, to signpost them to services and provide information and tools to help the public understand the risk and how to plan for it.

The Green Paper was right to seek views on how to increase take up of group income protection but they must also embrace IIP because even if coverage of Group Income Protection is extended it still will not always reach important groups such as the self-employed.

Second we have some important technical issues that need to be addressed. For many ordinary families, the benefits system cannot cover all their commitments.

Millions have mortgages or rental commitments beyond what the benefits system can cover, or other commitments/expenses which cannot be catered for in a taxpayer -funded system.

But the New Policy Institute (NPI) report illustrates how the new rules coming in for Universal Credit treat many people with IIP less favourably than the system they replace.

Families with children and people who rent are hit particularly hard as the ‘disregards’ and ‘tapers’ which help them in the legacy system are being withdrawn. This interaction is not a minor or theoretical issue.

As the State withdraws from paying any benefits to cover mortgage interest, any element of an insurance pay-out used to cover mortgage payments should be completely disregarded in the benefits system.

It seems irrational and self-defeating to remove the existing disregard for such payouts and treat them as available towards ordinary living costs.

A similar approach could also be applied to tenants. For example, any element of insurance which covers their ‘’excess rent” could be fully disregarded by the benefits system. (By ‘’excess rent” I mean the amount of rent that can’t be allowed by the benefits system because it exceeds a local or national cap).

Another option might be for people to be able to ‘’opt out” of drawing any state support for housing and in exchange the State would disregard any insurance payout they receive to cover their rent.

The graph below which was included in the NPI report shows the huge growth in generation rent following a long period of stability.

The rise and rise of 'Generation Rent'

Finally a taper and partial disregard on insurance payouts to meet living (as opposed to housing) costs should be introduced.

A logical starting point here would be for the ‘’earned income” taper and work allowances to apply to Income Protection in the same way as they do to Group Income Protection.

The reality is that both IIP and GIP involve putting aside a small amount of earned income to make prudent provision for future loss of earnings. In the case of GIP, this is facilitated by the employer whereas IIP is set up by the individual.

There seems no equitable reason why the latter course (which is the only route available to the self-employed and millions of other workers whose employers do not offer GIP) should be treated as less worthy than the former.

There may also be advantage in offering a specific new disregard on Income Protection payouts.

This would give a very clear message that it pays to make prudent provision – a message that is all the more important in the IIP setting as it requires the individual to make an active purchasing decision.

And for low income households a very simple basic policy which provides a fully disregarded sum would be extremely cheap and have significant impact on their wellbeing.

Later this year we can expect to see legislation to create the SFBG and a White Paper, with detailed proposals taking account responses to the consultations. I do hope we can look forward to some good news.

Written by Richard Walsh, SAMI Fellow and first published in Cover magazine, March 2017.

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The Many Futures of Life Insurance

May 10, 2017

There is only one past but there are many futures. Which one of the many possible futures develop is impossible to predict for certain but that should not stop us from speculating. Besides, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. So, what can we invent, or at least prompt into being?

We are in a time of great disruption and I could pick several drivers of that but in this blog I am going to concentrate on just three: demographics, consumer expectations and evolving technology.


There is significant societal change under way. According to the UN population growth is set to reach 11 billion by the end of the century. There is growing wealth, and not just in the West. The proportion of society classified as middle class is growing across the globe; the Brookings Institution estimates that there are 1.8 billion in the middle class, which will grow to 3.2 billion by the end of the decade. By 2030, Asia will be the home of 3 billion middle class people. It would be 10 times more than North America and five times more than Europe. The Middle Classes are responsible for the greatest consumption of financial services. Insurance products, particularly health, accident, illness, replacement income etc. are predominantly the province of the middle classes.

The shape of society is changing too; we are all getting older. One third of babies born in the UK today are expected to live to 100 with the global number of centenarians projected to increase 10-fold between 2010 and 2050. An older generation will require a different set of insurance products, both protection and wealth related, than a younger one.

We also have increasing urbanisation. In 2007, for the first time in our entire human history the tipping point was reached when more people lived in cities than outside. This brings burdens in exposure to greater pollution, more demand for social services and the greater threat of spreading pandemics.

The societal changes mean that new demands are growing for a new range of insurance products in the wider Life sector. Health, longevity, support for illness and disability, time out of work and a wider range of assets to grow and protect mean that the Life industry will have massive opportunities to create products that serve this new range of demands. The way in which these products are structured, delivered and serviced will have to change to keep pace with rapidly evolving consumer demands; and this will bring a range of threats to accompany those opportunities. New, consumer and service-oriented businesses will be able to invade the Life insurance sector with innovative modes of engagement and collaboration that insurers have traditionally shied away from or stumbled over.

Consumer Expectations

Consumers have got used to a world in which always-on, direct access to personalised service is seen as normal, not something they should be grateful for. Consumer demands – for accessibility, transparency, responsiveness – will form a baseline for expectations for insurance products and services. Where traditional insurers are unable to meet these demands, new companies will step into the life insurance value chain with supplementary services that enhance and even obscure the older, more traditional insurance business models of engagement. If insurers are not to lose out on new revenue streams and value components they will have to compete, form alliances with or buy these new organisations.

Technology is an obvious participant and driver in this process. It’s common knowledge now that we all have far more power in our smartphones than the whole of NASA had when it sent men to the moon. That massive rise in capacity creates an almost unimaginable, exponential rise in capability. The Digital phenomenon will enable and drive capacity and expectations. The general insurance sector is already making use of personalised, real-time data to create dynamic policy premium calculations with such wonders as telematics in cars that can detect driving habits as well as distance and the type of roads used. The rise of personalised digital devices that can record health and activity measures will be used by life and health insurers to create innovative protection products that can take into account more and more detailed aspects of an individual’s personal circumstances. Insurers may be able to underwrite individually based on thousands of variables.

Life, disability and health products will be able to take advantage of a range of immediately accessible on-line services and mobile apps that bring the consumer directly in contact with the service provider, be that the insurer itself, one of its agents or collaborators, or the third-party service providers that the insurance pays for, such as home helps, physiotherapists, doctors etc. The consumer will expect these and the insurer – if it wants to stay in the game – will either provide them or facilitate them, becoming the hub for the delivery of services arising from a claim.

Brave New World

So, which future will we see evolving? As I said, we cannot be certain – at least of the detail, which remains a little blurred – but the broad sweep of history unfolding before us is coming into focus.

In my view the characteristics of this new world, brave or timid, will include the following:

We will see much greater commoditisation and transparency, alongside increasing personalisation. There will be tighter margins driving business models to control costs with automation, digitisation, prevention through wellness programmes and incentives. Insurers will develop new products for ‘seniors’ and other affinity groups will arise – self-selecting niche groups which negotiate terms for their members. We will see more flexible products; the GI sector may lead but Life will follow with looser subscription based products whose coverage fluctuates according to changing circumstances.

There will be a heavy reliance on data and analytics with much greater automation and use of algorithms.

I have avoided the Brexit Elephant in the room. No doubt the deals that are negotiated will bring all sorts of challenges: over passporting rights, data protection equivalence, solvency parity, etc. It makes the future, at least in the UK even more uncertain, but that is a topic for another day.

One thing we can be sure of is that change is the only constant. As the philosopher Heraclitus said as long ago as the 4th century BC, “No man ever steps in the same river twice”.

Written by Graham Newman, Independent Insurance consultant.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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Training on bad decision making – are you serious?

May 3, 2017

You may think the last thing you need is training on what contributes to bad decisions. But in business, decision making is often done under time pressure without all the information required. Recognising some of the pitfalls allows us to challenge and improve decisions before they are implemented.

People are prone to all sorts of thinking and judgement errors including over confidence. We may take pride in our gut feeling, our intuitive understanding, our experience and skilful and insightful assessment of the current situation. Unfortunately we are often wrong. And that is before we start to think about how to get better at foresight – anticipating the future – for instance using Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner’s work Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

Academic work by psychologists such as Kahneman and Tversky has shown just how bad we can be at making good decisions. We naturally reject uncertainty – partly because it makes us uncomfortable and partly it is how our brains work. We suffer from various cognitive biases; over one hundred types have been identified. Here are a few and they make us feel more certain than we should.

  • We think we know what causes what and are confident we can see clear patterns when others see confusion. The danger is we attribute cause and effect to random events.
  • We tend to think that what we see and hear is all the information there is and act without further assessment; in our optimism we may ignore any information which suggests an action may be unwise.
  • When we do take note of other information we look for things which confirm our thinking and ignore anything that refutes it.
  • A focus on one thing may occupy so much of our attention we miss something in clear view in front of us. Check out this selective attention test where observers fail to see a man in a gorilla suit walking through a group of ball players.
  • When answering a complex question we may substitute a simpler one and answer that instead without being aware we have done it.
  • We are naturally poor at estimating probabilities. Groups tend to make more risky decisions than individuals and groups can go along with a course of action they don’t like because others seem to be going along with it. Diversity of people in a group and, more importantly, diversity of thinking should help reduce this particular bias.
  • Most of us, particularly experts, tend to be over confident. Our biases can also be reflected in our speech and writing and that may be a poor influence of other people’s decision making.
  • Finally, we also suffer from bias blind spot meaning we see ourselves as less biased than others and think we are more in control than we are.

In short we can make bad decisions more easily than we may realise and expose ourselves, teams and organisations we work with to unnecessary risk.

It is possible to reduce our susceptibility to these common errors in thinking through training. SAMI Fellow Professor Paul Moxey has developed workshops for business leaders. They cover:

  • The 12 key cognitive biases which cause bad decision making
  • The Columbia Shuttle Disaster and other failures affected by cognitive bias
  • How we can spot when a bias might cause a bad decision
  • New ways of thinking that reduce susceptibility to bias
  • Using bias free language
  • Being more comfortable with uncertainty and working with it
  • A practical process for eliminating bias errors
  • Ten tips for boards

They are a companion to the ‘Dealing with uncertainty’ Workshop, and can also be run in-house with an organisation. For further information contact Prof Paul Moxey at

Written by Paul Moxey, SAMI Fellow.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

5 learning points from United Airlines

April 26, 2017

The United Airlines story which caused reputational damage offers a number of reminders for any organisation providing a public service, whether state or privately owned.

  1. Gonzo journalism –

Almost everyone owns a smart phone with a camera, so broadcasting a news story is now both democratised and unmoderated. Anything that can be recorded & disseminated on social media can act to influence public opinion. Where this impacts investors and shareholders it can drive down value, as both Charles Ratner and Oscar Munoz will testify.

  1. Twittersphere travels –

Social media does not just democratise news broadcast, it enables visual stories to be rapidly dispersed to a global audience ignoring barriers of language. Over 3 million mentions in 48 hours signified the impact a viral video can have on everyone who sees it. It became a must-see, pass-on story proving the old adage that ‘only good news stays local’.

  1. Reaction response –

Research shows that it takes an organisation an average of 21 hours to issue any meaningful external communications, during which time the story has already gained traction. Trial by twitter in a kangaroo court is not fair but it is reality. Issuing denials while not in control of the full facts often makes the situation worse, it is why specialist crisis handling agencies exist.

  1. Legal limbo –

Many corporations respect the advice of their lawyers or counsel urging caution before admitting liability for fear of subsequent claims. This might be financially prudent but is sometime ethically wrong. Good leadership relies on sound judgement and just occasionally you have to ignore the legal advice and act with common sense: it can be a tough call.

  1. Factual focus –

Don’t try to defend the indefensible, manage the crisis by understanding then resolving the problem itself. Focus on the cause to select a remedy, not on managing the story. This will split attention and resource so that you lose focus on what you are really trying to do. You put out a fire by depriving it of oxygen, not by telling everyone it doesn’t exist.

Reputation is damaged when behaviour is demonstrably very different from the promise. Any service organisation that substantially disappoints customers or investors will suffer some damage. Recovery will usually be possible, but at a cost that could be avoided with better foresight.

Written by Garry Honey, Chiron Risk CEO and SAMI Associate.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Two fascinating books on decision making

April 19, 2017

I have recently been thinking about how decisions are made, and thought it would be worth sharing some of what I have learnt from two books – Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011) and The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis (2017)

Reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman will challenge your understanding of decision making. It is not an easy read – 500 pages of small print and dense text – but perseverance is worth it and after the first chapter or two you should get hooked by the revelations about how bad our brains can be when we make decisions. But it may be easier to start with Michael Lewis’ latest book.

Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short, Flash Boys and other books about the financial system, describes the work, background and the personal relationship of Kahneman and his late colleague and friend Amos Tversky. They were both Jewish children in WW2 and fought for Israel in Middle Eastern wars of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. They were also brilliant psychologists who early in their careers developed better ways for the Israeli military to select and train their forces. Later their work on Prospect Theory which amongst other things shows that people value gains less than equal losses led to a Nobel Prize in economics.

Lewis reveals their story about how these two very different people, one charismatic and outgoing the other quiet and withdrawn, worked together to give new insights into how we act and how we make decisions. They showed that people do not think statistically, wrongly find causality in unrelated events, are prone to over confidence and make poor decisions based on information readily available rather than looking for sufficient evidence. They showed that, contrary to economic wisdom, people do not always behave rationally and they can be credited with the development of the discipline of Behavioural Economics.

Lewis reveals enough of their academic insights to make you want to find out more. Kahneman’s book gives the rest. He talks about their work which he links to other people’s research on the same issues so providing a clear summary of the state of knowledge in 2011. The book is likely to make you question what you thought you knew and make you wish you knew what you have just learned when you were younger.

Written by Paul Moxey, SAMI Fellow.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Dealing with uncertainty

April 12, 2017

Uncertainty is very topical: research by the European Central Bank shows that 20% of market fluctuations are caused by uncertainty. In the UK one third of business owners admit that uncertainty ahead of Article 50 is their biggest concern. In Europe there is uncertainty over the outcome of elections this year in France, Holland and Germany. There is now even uncertainty about future cohesion of the member states of the EU as a trading bloc.

Add to this the uncertainty many Muslims feel about whether they will be welcome in the US under the new administration; plus the uncertainty British farmers feel about their future once EU farming subsidies are removed. The pound has fallen in value by 20% since the Brexit referendum, and food prices in the shops are beginning to rise. Producers, distributors and retailers having absorbed some of the increase to date, are finally passing it on to the consumer.

Our weekly shopping basket is beginning to feel expensive and families will buy less and switch products with inflation adding to our sense of un-affordability. Where does this leave the food supply chain for the EU and UK which have been inter-twined for over 40 years? How do you unbundle years of trade agreements on price controls, safety standards and quotas? The policy makers are no more certain about the future than the electorate, uncertainty ‘trumps’ all other worries.

What is uncertainty?

The future is unknown and unknowable, yet we treat uncertainty in different ways. Sometimes we reduce uncertainty through analysis or calculation, sometimes through guesswork or intuition. Governments and corporations buy forecasts from market analysts, economists and sociologists look for cycles and patterns which indicate a probable future outcome. There are millions of people in the Far East who consider astrology, or planet alignment, to have some bearing on the future. Everyone wants a coping strategy going forward.

The question is not how to remove uncertainty but how to reduce it, that is what early maritime insurance underwriters recognised when Lloyds was established in London in the 1690s. The history of the risk industry is bound up with how we respond to fear of an unknown future and the value we put on security through certainty. Some types of uncertainty can be reduced through careful analysis of available information, some by acquisition of supplementary information. These are either ‘known-knowns’ or ‘known-unknowns’.

Some types of uncertainty are harder to reduce as vital information remains unknown to us. We don’t recognise the type of information we need although it probably exists, we just don’t appreciate its relevance to our current dilemma, these are called ‘unknown-knowns’. The final and most difficult type of uncertainty to deal with is one that we haven’t even recognised yet. This falls beyond our comprehension and is not even identified as something we should know. A category Donald Rumsfeld succinctly called ‘unknown-unknowns’.

Dealing with uncertainty

To effectively reduce uncertainty we therefore need to recognise the appropriate cause of uncertainty and recognise where we need to focus attention to reduce uncertainty. The first type or ‘known-knowns’ just require a bit of analysis or interpretation of what we’ve already got. This is a kind of measurable uncertainty that can be reduced to an acceptable level of certainty.

The second type of uncertainty includes all ‘known-unknowns’. These highlight knowledge gaps like missing jigsaw pieces. We know what we don’t know in the sense that we appreciate and recognise the information needed to complete the picture, to provide insight necessary to make informed judgement. These missing pieces are known about although we don’t yet have them; this is why the known-unknowns can most usefully be called ‘jigsaw’ uncertainty.

The third type of uncertainty incorporates ‘unknown-knowns’. Here the uncertainty is caused because we fail to appreciate what is needed to complete the picture; this despite the existence of information to fill our knowledge gaps. The missing knowledge exists but we don’t appreciate it or have looked in the wrong place, hence it remains unknown to us. Data from political, economic, social or technical sources exist, but we just haven’t identified it as necessary.

The fourth type of uncertainty we call ‘unknown-unknowns’ are the uncertainties we don’t even acknowledge. The risks that never appear on the risk register because we haven’t even considered their possibility. Within this category lie many uncertainties that we don’t need to consider, but some we ought to. The only way to contemplate these is to think ‘outside the box’ and imagine ourselves from a completely different perspective. These are the hardest to reconcile.

Resolving problems

Uncertainty creates ambiguity and this creates problems for us. Keith Grint in his 2008 book ‘Wicked problems and clumsy solutions’ identified these three types. There are Tame problems which are answerable because a solution is attainable. There are Critical problems that require a leader to marshal resources necessary to solve the problem. Then there are Wicked problems.

Wicked problems are those where there is no answer, complex challenges that demand an enormous amount of resource and analytical competence to even begin to resolve. Much global uncertainty today falls into this category. Certainties on which two or three generations have relied are now no longer valid. What ‘trumps’ uncertainty ….better than anything? False certainty…. We need to learn how to live with risk without fear!

Written by Garry Honey, Chiron Risk CEO and SAMI Associate.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

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