Navigate Towards The Best Possible Future

Businesses, like other organisms, do not live in a vacuum; rather, they exist in a mileu characterised by increasing regulation, strong competition, economic disarray, international influence and disruptive innovation. In periods of relative stability, incremental change is usually sufficient to keep the business and its environment harmonised. However, when there is a major discontinuity, the imperative moves from adjustment to survival. When this happens, managers must take aggressive action to adapt to the new world in which they find themselves. Those that react swiftly will be in a better position than those who do not.

Conventional business planning probably won’t help. It tends to work on the assumption that tomorrow’s work will be similar to today’s and when the world is stable, it tends to produce ‘the right answer’. However, where the business environment isn’t static, simply extrapolating past performance will not result in an accurate prediction of future results. In other words, conventional planning tends to let you down when you need it most, which is when something out of the ordinary happens.

The future is a moving target and the key to success lies not in better planning techniques but in accepting uncertainty, anticipating what might happen and being thoroughly prepared to take timely action when it does. Our Future Acuity service helps organisations identify possible future discontinuities and the signals which will indicate that an upheaval may be on the way. It helps you think through the actions that you will take should a possible future scenario become reality.

In the 1970s, Shell famously used scenario planning, a technique that teaches managers to think about an uncertain future, to anticipate the oil crisis of 1973 and subsequently the glut which followed the outbreak of the Iran - Iraq war. In so doing, they avoided losses amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars - unlike their competition. In an increasingly complex world, forward thinking is becoming more not less important. Scenario planning is not only valid in a commercial environment. It played a crucial role in the Mont Fleur exercise undertaken in South Africa in 1991, shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela. It bought people together from across the nation to debate “how to shape the next 10 years”. Four different scenarios were identified and debated resulting in a new common vocabulary, new networks and relationships being established, changed understandings and new ways of thinking all of which led to revised approaches to the constitutional negotiations. The Mont Fleur exercise demonstrated that scenario planning is an excellent tool for gaining public consensus and alignment around the problems which exist and their subsequent solutions.

It is not coincidence that achieving consensus and alignment is one of our underpinning principles, embedded into our general approach. When working with you to establish your plans for the future, our preference will be to use a blend of scenario planning, industry knowledge and strategy modelling techniques to take you through a process which will:
  • Identify important variables within your organisation and external to it
  • Understand the effect of relationships and interactions between variables
  • Identify significant stakeholders and their interests
  • Model trends and driving forces
  • Create a set of stories about possible futures based on the unpredictable driving forces
  • Identify the weak signals which will indicate that a particular scenario may be happening
  • Draw up action plans to be undertaken in the event a scenario starts to materialise
  • Establish the monitoring regime which will be used to detect the weak signals
  • Involve the organisation in thinking about the future. This is important as it will acclimatise staff to the need for change before that change has become urgent so that when you need to change, resistance will be lower
  • Identify the changes that you need to make now in order to realise a preferred future

The primary outcome will be that you as an organisation will be positioned to anticipate a range of possible futures whether they represent opportunities or threats and react swiftly to the indications that a change in the business environment is underway. In addition, knowing what your ideal future looks like, you will be in a position to navigate towards it through a changing landscape.

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