As I write this, I’m impatiently waiting out the 90 minutes before I see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on its opening night here in Melbourne, and I’ve been thinking about the connection between science fiction and the work that we do at Kienco with strategic foresight and, in particular, creating scenarios.
This year has been a year where for Sci Fi and “The Future” have been in the news a lot, due to the 30th Anniversary of Back To The Future Part II, and the passing of October 21, 2015, the day that Marty McFly travels to “The Future” in that movie. Or, more correctly to two different scenarios of what 2015 might look like. As 2015 comes to a close, some of you might be disappointed that we don't all have Automatic Dog Walkers, Hoverboards, Self-lacing Nikes, and Flying Cars. Those were the promises of one of the 2015s identified in Back to the Future. Not all of that possible future has come to pass – but some of it has. For example:
- Nike has created self-lacing sneakers to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film.
- Pepsi released Pepsi Perfect, again to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film.
- Hoverboards (technically not actually hoverboards, but that’s how they’re being marketed) are the hot new gift for Christmas this year. (1)
- Someone has actually managed to get a drone to walk a dog. Admittedly, this is the most well behaved dog in the world.
There’s a common theme here. In all of the examples above, Back to the Future Part II did not predict the future – it inspired the future. Each of these things has happened as an homage to the film. And that is the true value of a good scenario. Scenarios explore the limits of what is possible by removing us from the constraints of our immediate environment, and instead allowing us to imagine a very different, but nonetheless plausible, future environment. If we explore several of these scenarios, we can explore the limits and range of what futures we might find ourselves in.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that Sci Fi doesn’t accurately predict the future. The Running Man, made in 1987, is probably the next Hollywood-produced “scenario” chronologically – it is set in 2017. Nobody wants to live in a 2017 where there has been a global economic collapse, the United States is sealing off its borders, free speech has been curtailed, or reality TV has been invented.)
Good scenarios identify both opportunities and risks, allowing us to leverage the former and mitigate the latter. Shell, one of the first corporations to use scenario planning back in 1972, identified one scenario where the relatively stable and predictable oil market became a sellers market when oil producing nations formed a cartel to control the supply and price of oil. The next year, in October 1973, OPEC proclaimed an oil embargo which caused the price of oil to quadruple in just a few months. Shell were better positioned than others to respond to this reality, because they identified and explored the opportunities and risks in such a scenario.
Scenarios remove our business-as-usual “blinkers” and help us to imagine what is possible, and they can inspire us to create the future, not just respond to it. I believe scenarios are a critical tool for leadership in the 21st century. If you want to lead your organisation into the future, it helps to have a map for getting there.
As Qui Gon Jinn would say, your focus determines your reality.
If you’d like to be equipped with some of the tools of Strategic Foresight – not just scenario planning, but environment scanning, causal layered analysis, ladders of influence, and a wide range of other tools, you may want to consider coming to The Futures School, a 3-day, immersive, and project-based course that is being run in 2016 in Miami, Los Angeles, and the Sydney Opera House.
Until the 31st of December, you can access the “Futurist Rate” for the Sydney program, a 50% discount to the standard pricing. If you’d like more information about this globally unique program in this globally unique venue, visit www.TheFuturesSchool.com, email info@TheFuturesSchool.com, or call my office on +61 3 8687 2187.
(1) There’s a fascinating story about Chinese manufacturers ability to rapidly responding to the latest cultural meme here: “How to Make Millions of Hoverboards (Almost) Overnight”