The Art of the Long View

By Peter Schwartz

This is a good, realitvely light, read on strategic planning in general and on the use of scenarios for strategic planning in specific. Schwartz worked at Shell during the energy crisis of the 1970s, and describes from personal experience how Shell used scenario-based strategic planning to help navigate successfully through the crisis.

Swedish neurobiologist David Ingvar characterizes scenarios as “memories of the future.” As such, Shwartz cautions against treating these future memories as tools to predict the future. There are no crystal balls.

Rather than predict one certain future, scenarios intend merely to describe and simulate multiple plausible futures. The goal of scneraio-based strategic planning is to free people from conventional wisdom and “the official future” organizational groupthink encourages. This freedom allows people to see many plausible futures, their causes, their consequences and their signs. This then empowers people and organizations to both be appropriately prepared for the future, regardless of which one actually arrives and to determine which one they want to work toward.

Scenarios then become a sort of dress rehersal for the future. And since we can never really be sure which play we will performing tonight, the more plays we reherse the better.

Schwartz’s strategic scenarios are based on the tensions between driving forces, predetermined elements and critical uncertainties.

  • Driving Forces: society, technology, economics, politics and the enviroment. Schwartz fails to call out culture on its own, treating it as a sub-catagory of environment.
  • Predetermined Elements: There are things that you can’t change. For instance the age-wave (retiring baby-boomers) is predetermined.
  • Critical Uncertainties: these are unknown and often unknowable, but usually intimately realted to predetermined elements. The idea is to be prepared

Schwartz goes on to detail these tensions, and provides not only examples of this theories, but also a collection of how to’s and steps to developing your own strategic scenarios.

The Art of The Long View is no where near as dense and scholarly as Kees van der Heijden’s Scenarios, nor does it delve as deep into the theories of stratgic planning, but it is a great and eaasy to read intoduction to both strategic planning and scenarios.

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