The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly hit businesses hard. Indeed it has delivered the fastest, deepest economic shock in history. But should businesses have been better prepared for it and will they be next time a major event happens?
Some people seems to suggest that this was some sort of unpredictable blow that no one could have foreseen.
But that is just not true.
I was reading in Azeem Azhar’s excellent Exponential View that an outbreak of the type we are experiencing now had been predicted many times by scientists including in the Clinical Microbiology Review. Indeed coronavirus was predictable and predicted.
So why are we so often caught out by the future, whether it be a virus or other major event? One of the reasons resides in our brains which are hard-wired for the short term. Part of the reason for that is that for most of human existence there was no future as we had relatively short lifespans. Our brains prioritise short term gratification over long-term goals. We experience this in our struggles with healthy eating, saving for the future and in the way we make decisions as businesses. In the case of businesses this is added to by short term targets, instant marketing methods and short tenures in jobs.
Can we be better prepared for the next major event?
The short answer is yes. By using techniques such as scenario planning we can be much better prepared, not just for another virus outbreak, but for other seismic changes caused by Social, Technical, Economic, Environmental and/or Political events and trends. Does that mean that I forecast the coronavirus outbreak? No. I am not talking about predicting the future, I’m talking about being prepared for an uncertain future.
Scenario planning is the best way to organise future thinking. It is a strategic planning method designed to produce flexible plans to deal with future situations, but should also inform current decision making. We have developed an agile methodology to bring this respected technique up to date for the digital age. We use a series of short sprints to ensure the process is fast-paced, engaging and productive with tangible outputs to help decision making today to maximise success in the future.
Our methodology progresses through four clear stages using a strictly time-boxed sprint process:
- identifying plausible drivers of change – this is the data discovery phase, combining available internal data with broad external data sets including STEEP trends, Social, Technical, Economic, Environmental and Political and including data from scientific journals;
- filtering, prioritising and combining key drivers of change - often the most powerful scenarios are those that identify a critical interaction between drivers of change with powerful and previously unforeseen impact;
- combining these into credible future scenarios – this is the creative phase in which we use storytelling and ‘design fiction’ techniques; and then
- analysing, prioritising and planning to respond to the scenarios, including informing current strategy, setting measurement methods and signals. This is vital when technologies and social changes may accelerate much faster than predicted. Scenarios should be regularly revisited.
A key output is the ‘Three Horizons’ strategy plan that maps key decision factors according to three time horizons: start with a ten - five year horizon and work back to five - two years and then two years - present. At reviews the factors will move according to the tracking set up and it should be expected some factors will accelerate forward. You will be ready.
“The future mindset is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” Martin Talks
One of the biggest hurdles to transformation initiatives is the mindset of the workforce. My approach empowers leadership, thaws the ‘frozen middle’ of management and motivates all staff with a sense of direction. These sessions benefit from diversity of attendance and inclusivity of input whether across the whole organisation, the leadership teams, or a function such as marketing, innovation, R&D, product or design. Strategy should not just be the preserve of the strategy team.
It’s never been more important that organisations have an ability to plan for that uncertain future. And it’s never seemed so difficult. We are here to help with Agile Scenario Planning.
“To operate in an uncertain world people need to be able to re-perceive: to question their assumptions about the way the world works, so that they can see the world more clearly. The purpose of scenarios is to help yourself change your view of reality” Pierre Wack