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25th Anniversary blog series: 1997 – Scenario Planning: Managing for the Future

February 18, 2015

The first edition of this appeared in 1997. It was an immediate success for a number of reasons.

It spoke from the practitioner’s point of view, opening up what had been a rather mysterious subject, the province of consultants.

It collected together many of the seminal papers describing methods and tools, and had examples of scenarios produced and used by real organisations.

It described “what works and what does not”.

It emphasised using scenarios in real organisations for strategy, for public engagement and for team building, and methods of communication of the scenarios for different roles.

Its use in Business Schools that teach scenario planning as part of strategy was widespread, leading to reprints right through to the latest reprint of the 2nd (2006) edition in 2014.

What has changed since the 1st edition was published? (or perhaps, what is the same?)

In 1997, writing and publishing a book was hard – word processing was less developed, handling of graphics was limited, emailing versions for comment was laborious. In 2015, some authors are taking advantage to produce a pdf for online payment, but many still rely on the publisher using the same tools as in 1997.

Organisations such as the World Economic Forum, the Millennium Group, as well as Shell and the National Intelligence Council have developed and published scenarios addressing arrange of issues. The use of Internet means that these are available world-wide for use by organisations in their strategic thinking. In 1997, the availability of much of this information was still through personal collections, or by the copying services such as that at the British Library.

Since then there have been many books on scenario planning, mostly describing a single method as used by consultants: many of these are excellent. Many Business Schools teach scenario planning as part of strategy – while ignoring methods and tools for futures thinking developed since 1997.

Organisations have changed their shape – strategy groups and corporate plans are unrecognisable from 1997. But the stimulus for a future thinking exercise is still often a new CEO or Chairman, rather than it being built into strategic thinking.

At a recent symposium on “advances in scenario planning”, we concluded that while many of the ancillary processes to scenario planning such as data gathering and analysis, and use of collaborative tools for crowd engagement, are radically changed from 1997, the core processes of and around scenario thinking have not changed. The capability to create the right environment for the right discussion remains the core of scenario planning.

Written by Gill Ringland.

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