How Will You Plan in an Uncertain World?
We live in a fast-changing world, with more external pressures than ever before, and many outside our control. If we didn’t know it before COVID-19, we definitely know it now. And a global pandemic is just one of the many disruptions we will face in the short, medium, and long term.
In a fast-changing world, it’s impossible to predict the future, especially beyond the short term. So you make a plan, but even as you’re doing it, you worry that it’s already out of date.
As boxer Mike Tyson said,
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
So do you just keep on making unrealistic plans, knowing something will come along to punch you in the face?
No! There’s a better way.
The things you don’t know WILL hurt you!
The pandemic – and other disruptions – affect us all in different ways, but the one thing that’s certain is we’re facing more uncertainty. But the solution is not to give up planning for the future. It’s about better understanding for the future.
Make no mistake – uncertainty changes everything. Some people become paralysed by fear, others cross their fingers and hope for the best, and others continue in a false sense of security that nothing has changed. But the best people, leaders, teams, and organisations roll up their sleeves and take action.
Aim for flexibility rather than accuracy. Imagine multiple futures, assess their plausibility, and keep your options open.
When you get this right, you’ll be significantly more productive because you and your team understand the risks and opportunities in the future, and you have created an organisation (and culture) that’s positioned to leverage those opportunities to stay ahead of the game.
That’s where Scenario Planning comes in.
In 1965, the oil company Shell (then Royal Dutch Shell) started its ‘department of long-term studies’ in London. The ‘department’ consisted of a handful of people, who delivered a ‘Year 2000’ study report, projecting long-term outlooks for the company. Rather than trying to make clear, precise predictions (an impossible task), the group explored a series of alternative futures, and developed plausible stories for how they could pan out.
They then presented this to Shell management, so they could incorporate these scenarios into their strategic planning. That made the strategic plans more robust, but without being set in stone. Because Shell considered multiple future scenarios, they could be flexible and respond quickly as the world changed around them.
The leaders at Shell were well ahead of their time in the 1960s. Now, the world is changing exponentially faster, and we have to be even better prepared for future shocks and disruptions. So we need this kind of scenario planning more than ever.