W e matter: Until a few hundred years ago anything we humans undertook did not matter on a geophysical, evolutionary scale. It mattered a lot to us humans, but the planet, nature and life itself just shrugged - if they noticed at all. This has changed. Collectively, we now matter. We change the climate, we leave behind waste that needs to be kept separate from life for tens of thousands of years, we intervene in evolution. Still, we act as if there would always be enough survivors to observe our trials and draw conclusions from them. The power we have to change life, nature, the planet and everything in between will be with us from now on - you can’t put the genie back in the bottle again. Pandora’s box doesn’t have a lid anymore. So the very least we should do, in my mind, is to approach the future with a bit more humility, prudence, and modesty, rather than charge ahead without any thought, consideration or a plan B. Scenarios don’t just give you that plan B, but also plan C and plan D.
The chapters' bottom line
How to create and use scenarios - and why you should.
The big picture
We live in times of unprecedented choices. The good news is we can choose, the bad, we must. Scenarios help you choose.
The 7 phases of scenario creation
The driving question; conversations; analysis; 2 uncertainties; plotlines; stories and titles, application
To make better decisions today for uncertain futures tomorrow; to shape the future.
Scenarios are ...
... about people and the future.
Core team, writer, growing a team, money, difficult participant, flow of energy, size of project, etc.
Understand, Imagine, Change
Imagine how your future could be, and then make it happen, interacting with others.
... OK, but some more details, please
The big picture
All data and information consist of signal components and noise components. And it’s the signals that carry the useful bits we are after: news, facts, truth, reality, accuracy, precision and certainty. Unfortunately, they are buried, sometimes very deeply, in noise. Noise is distraction, commotion, disturbance and uncertainty. Noise is background disturbances that smear the signal, all the way to totally hiding it. So, what can we do when our signal gets lost in the noise? We can and must give it context. “Information becomes knowledge only when it’s placed in context.” (Silver, The Noise and the Signal, pg 451) What scenarios are really good at is placing your signal, your data, into not one, but several divergent contexts. Scenarios empower you and your team to actually create these contexts. Decisions you take in the present will turn out to be better ones for the uncertainties of the future that will always confront you.
The 7 phases of scenario creation
They are the driving question; conversations; analysis; 2 uncertainties; plotlines; stories and titles, application. For example, #6: Causal stories with titles. The key to a good story is the switch from chronology to causality. In 99% of the cases, the first sketch created in the first workshop is a chronological sketch: A did this, then that happened, then C pushed B, D got elected, promoted or expelled, and finally F did that. The pattern is familiar because this is how we look at life and it is how history, overwhelmingly, gets taught. But chronology condemns you to be reactive. If time drives everything – as a chronological view presumes – then what can you do? Nothing at all – you can only wait. Instead, get participants to give you reasons and logic. Ask, like a pestering five-year-old, why, why, why? If most of the narrative takes place at the edge of a quadrant, ask ‘how on earth did you get there from here?’ If a deus-ex-machina appears, ask for the reason.
This is why we do scenarios: to make better decisions in the here and now for an uncertain future! Scenarios give us a tableau of possible futures. So we now have three choices: 1 we adapt our strategies and (business) plans, at all levels, to the future landscape, so that we succeed by adapting better than others 2 we shape the landscape to play to our inherent strengths. The landscape of the future is not deterministic; it is full of uncertainties, surprises and chance. 3 we transform the future into what we think - with others - it should be.
Scenarios are ...
Scenarios allow and invite you to pay real attention to others, to listen empathetically, to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, to serve and respect others and to help ordinary people reach for the stars. If this kind of intimacy makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps scenarios are not for you. Perhaps, instead, you can serve humanity better by getting a job developing the next great algorithm. Second, remind yourself repeatedly that the future is completely ahead of you and all others. Even though you will spend the rest of your life in the future, no one has ever been there, and no one ever will. No one knows what it will look, feel, smell and taste like. It makes the future subject to my influencing it and gives me great serenity. So, approach the future with humility, be sceptical of people who claim to know what will happen and remain open to surprises, wonder, even magic. Because life is not the sum of the days you will have counted at the end, instead it is all about the days, and the moments, that truly count.
For example Growing the team. Assemble a team you really like to work with, open, playful, yet disciplined and reliable, where each member can blindly rely on the others when needed. And trust me, during the course of a scenario exercise, each of you will need the others. Blind trust at the extreme means that as you grow your team, each member already part of the team has an unconditional veto on who joins. Stay away from people with egos so big that can’t fit through a door, from the ones who know, from the ones who always have to be right, from the ones who always need to be center-stage and the ones who hold a grudge against people. They take energy away from you, the team and even the participants.
Pages from Generous Respect
From the chapter "Phase 7: Application"
If you are interested in my other book
Once old frames have lost their ability to help us find meaning in our everyday lives, a new one emerges. We are witnessing such an emergence of a new frame, built on relations, generosity and respect. This book is about the possibility to change our lives and our societies that both have become empty, wasted and mean. This book is about hope.
The past frame: Economics
The promise of this frame is material wealth for all, now. The ideal of the economic frame is growth, growth as we are learning, at almost any cost. The key actors are consumers and producers, engaging in endless transactions – the more the better. And as we transact, the economic story atomizes and destroys the web of relationships that make us humans human. The language of this economic frame is images and numbers, which allow it to be the first truly global story. The behavior of this story is that of maximizing advantage, very often in a relentless, one could even say, merciless, way. And, finally, this is the first story that is not driven by solar energy, but by the use of fossil fuels.
The new frame: Generous Respect
"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
How to get there from here
Thus, the economic frame is more of a 'Scheinriese', an illusionary giant, than a real one. More like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, who was unmasked by Toto, Dorothy’s dog, by simply pulling a curtain and revealing a flabby middle-aged man. Illusionary giants are brought down by the mere push of someone's, often a child's, fingertip. Because their previous power crumbles from within.
What about work?
When I talk to people about the new generous and respectful frame most like it, to most it seems a refreshing change from the current one. But, sooner or later, they begin to wonder: "Will people still buy and sell things, will they have jobs, and will they get paid for the work they do?" The short answer is 'yes of course', the longer one goes like this: Just because the economic story will no longer be the dominant organizing principle, this does not mean that commerce will disappear. But it will be an adjunct to life, not its determining feature.