FSG Blog
August 28, 2012

Scenario Planning and Truth

Scenario planning and truth make an odd couple.

My colleague Patrick Marren is known for this clever quip when asked what he does for a living:  “I make stuff up about the future.”  True enough.  There is, after all, no data on the future, which is why we in the scenario planning business rely on our imaginations to construct challenging “future histories” for our clients.

It is also true that the essential value of scenario planning is not just about constructing cool futuristic stories to “get the client thinking outside the box.”

That might be a refreshing weekend retreat experience, but it rarely delivers sustained value.  Why?

It is typically because one-off brainstorming exercises rarely connect to anything that executives really care about, the stuff that keeps them up at night.  So, cool futuristic thinking gets shunted aside and the really important, strategic decisions end up being made not by expansive scenario analysis, but by “hard data” – invariably in the form of numbers coming out of the CFO’s office.   The problem is, hard data is by definition backward-looking and inwardly-focused, even when tweaked by various what-ifs in spreadsheet exercises.   It is not, by itself, strategy-friendly.

Let’s concede for a moment the exaggerated dualism portrayed here. Most organizations really do try to incorporate some consideration of future conditions into their strategic planning and executive decision-making.  But it’s hard, really hard, without a disciplined process like scenario planning, to arrive at that strategic sweet spot, where both left and right sides of the brain converge.

Expansive thinking + hard numerical analysis

That balance between expansive thinking and hard numerical analysis is what FSG strives to attain for our clients, and truthfully, what sets us apart in the scenario-planning consulting world.

Patrick Marren might take the most professional pride in the fact that he’s an extraordinary (and often scarily prescient) scenario writer.  But it’s also true that he is a practicing Finance MBA from the University of Chicago.

(Sorry to have to out you, Pat.)

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