April 13, 2020

Scenario Planning in the Time of Coronavirus

Peter Kennedy
Managing Principal

 

Suddenly, the future is here. 

For almost two decades, FSG has been creating alternative future scenarios to help leaders grapple with complex change brought about by the convergence of powerful forces -- demographics, technology, regulations, globalization, climate change, and much more.

And yes, global pandemics, too, as our colleague Joe DuFresne has chronicled in a recent article he posted on Medium.

In classic scenario planning, the job is to look beyond the present situation and imagine future operating environments at least five years out but very often 10- and even 20-plus years into the future. That futures perspective is not to postpone action for some later date but to use the future as a lens or forcing function to reassess current direction and make necessary course corrections today. The key thing is that without that over-the-horizon perspective, planners risk missing both hidden disruptions and unexpected upsides. They remain blinded by the tyranny of the present. 

But the coronavirus crisis upsets the conventional scenario planning timeline. It is an example of those rare, once-a-century events that reshuffle our assumptions about what will be important in the future and how we will cope. With uncertainty rife, everything - almost everything, anyway – gets reset in a more compressed planning horizon.  

Which brings us to April 2020. FSG is committed to illuminating what the world could look like when the immediate Covid-19 crisis has passed. We have created a set of post-virus scenario foundations that describe a range of different coronavirus impacts on the economy, business, politics, global relations, work, lifestyle and more. This 2022 scenario tool will be continuously updated and is customizable across sectors and industries. Please contact us for additional information.

We will continue to comment on coronavirus scenario challenges on these blog pages. These are extraordinarily uncertain times – the ripest and yet the most challenging conditions for doing scenario planning.

In case you missed it…

Gerard Smith looks back on a piece he penned in 2009 called “The Paradox of Uncertainty” and considers what it means in the context of the current coronavirus crisis.

Kevin McDermott makes the case for scenario planning now more than ever in his recent blog “Are You Making Choices Right Now? Or Just Reacting to Whatever Happens Next?” 

In his recent piece published on Medium titled "What 2035 Can Teach Us About Pandemic Management" FSG associate Joe DuFresne relates his experience as a Coast Guard officer preparing for a coronavirus-like event. It’s a great, real-life case study of scenario planning’s practical contributions to foresight at the Coast Guard.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments  | 

Charles Thomas
Peter: I continue to think this is a marvelous idea, no matter how challenging to execute. Keeping these scenario perspectives refreshed is an important commitment, it seems to me. In fact, you may consider a full re-do in 6-9 months when some key high leverage issues such as economic recovery and vaccine efficacy are better understood.
pkennedy
Thanks, Tom. I agree that a complete "refresh" in 6-9 months will be important, given the extraordinary uncertainty and volatility of the present moment. We may find -- even in a mere few months' time -- that our starting point for thinking about paths forward is completely changed from April 2020. Longer term, you're right that vaccine efficacy and economic recovery are critical high-leverage issues to track and understand.
Thanks, Tom. I agree that a complete "refresh" in 6-9 months will be important, given the extraordinary uncertainty and volatility of the present moment. We may find -- even in a mere few months' time -- that our starting point for thinking about paths forward is completely changed from April 2020. Longer term, you're right that vaccine efficacy and economic recovery are critical high-leverage issues to track and understand.

Thoughts?