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Scenario Thinking

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For More Information: Global Business Network,

To arrive at a deeper understanding of the world in which your organization operates, and use that understanding to inform your strategy and improve your ability to make better decisions today and in the future. 

  • Set strategic direction 
  • Catalyze bold action 
  • Accelerate collaborative learning 
  • Alignment and visioning 

When to Use: 
  • When the solution to a strategic issue is unclear 
  • You are working in a highly uncertain environment 
  • There is leadership support for scenario thinking 
  • Your organization is open to change and dialogue 
  • You have the resources for a successful initiative 

When Not to Use: 

  • The problem you are dealing with is not central to your organizational strategy and/or your problem and solution are clear 
  • The outcome will largely be shaped by internal or external forces 
  • There is not enough urgency for change 
  • There is too much urgency to step back for a reflective and creative conversation 
  • Desired outcomes are poorly aligned with your dedicated resources 

Number of Participants: 
  • 10–20 interviewees 
  • 15–500 workshop participants 

Types of Participants:
  • Decision makers 
  • Internal and external stakeholders representing a range of functions and perspectives 
  • Outsiders introducing provocative perspectives 

Typical Duration: 
  • Orient phase: 1–2 months 
  • Explore,synthesize,and act phases: 2–4 months 
  • Monitor phase: Indefinite 

Brief Example: 

A financial services company needs to better understand potential impact of emerging technologies and consumer behavior on the market for investment services during the dot-com bubble—and beyond. It engages in a scenario thinking process that involves the company’s key decision makers. As a result, the company makes a decision that prevents overinvestment in growth during the peak of dot-com speculative bubble, and new product development is initiated. 

Historical Context: 

Scenario pioneers include Herman Kahn, Pierre Wack, Peter Schwartz, Kees van der Heijden, Ted Newland, and Napier Collyns. Roots in military planning and Wack’s work at Shell in the 1970s.