I was delighted to be asked to join a group of leading consultants and academics by Laurie Young, Dr Wendy Schultz and Gill Ringland of SAMI Consulting last week to explore techniques for scenario planning both to help develop more robust strategies and to increase engagement in the strategic process.
It was a re-run of a session that they had conducted with leaders from organisations such as Jones Lang Lasalle, Norman Broadbent, BDO, WaterAid, Allen & Overy, Toshiba, OUBS, Grosvenor Estates, Grant Thornton, Fujitsu, ITSMA, Kogan Page and Ramblers back in April 2012.
I was pleased that I had completed the advance preparation (which was to review a deck of cards showing various global, political, economic, technology and social trends and forecasts as well as a series of “Aha” reflections) as the first exercise we were asked to do was to add our own thoughts to those attached to the wall of the large room at Cass Business School. No doubt everyone will value the updated deck which combines all the ideas.
Timeline of key incidents in a sector
We were introduced to a timeline on another wall. There was a general concept that in order to look forward 50 years we needed to look back at least a 100 years. Teams were asked to select a sector to consider. Whilst the other two groups choose the information technology sector, our group picked entertainment.
So we spent a happy half hour considering the major developments in the entertainment sector during each decade since the 1930s. This was made all the more fun as we had no one with any real expertise or business knowledge of the entertainment sector!
Then we were asked to pick out perhaps the ten or so most important changes that had occurred so that we exposed our dominant mental models and opened our minds to what had really driven change and at what pace. These were placed on the wall to complete our timelines.
Identifying future scenarios
Suitably fired up, we were challenged then to prepare a 10 minute presentation on what we considered to be the most important trends and changes for a future scenario for the sector. We adopted a rather novel approach – which was to make up a series of new words to convey the road ahead for the entertainment sector (if you are interested, these included: MassCommunity, ExperiVirtual, ShapeShareRights, TechEduTainment, Greytertainment and Profluence).
New tools and techniques to aid new thinking
We were also asked to identify any other tools and techniques we use as consultants with our clients to help expose entrenched paradigms or to break out into new ways of thinking. And one of our offered techniques was Rule-Playing (as opposed to Role Playing).
After each group delivered their presentations to a special guest (the partner in charge of the scenario planning process at solicitors Allen & Overy) we then listened as he described how the process had been conducted amongst their 508 partners to a) validate their strategy b) tweak their strategy and c) focus their strategy. I was so pleased to hear that at least one law firm was brave enough to adopt such radical approaches.
One of the ideas that kept popping into my mind during the afternoon was that often the companies and professional practices – and indeed some sectors – are seduced into GroupThink (ref: psychologist Janis) which reduces their ability to consider weak signals (or even strong ones!) that challenge their strategic and operational plans.
Certainly exercises of this nature – and the real value was having people from such disparate backgrounds, areas of expertise and territories in a relaxed environment – help you break out of outdated mental models. Not so much “Blowing the cobwebs off your mind” as “Getting out of the straightjacket of old models” or even “MindGym for deep thinkers”.
Thanks to the organisers, facilitators and the hosts for a great event on strategy and scenario planning. And I look forward to keeping in touch with several valuable new contacts I made.
If you are interested in other future-oriented blogs and scenario/chaotics, please take a look at: