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What Is Future Scenario Thinking And How It Can Save You Time And Money

Written by: Natasha Zo, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


As a business founder, it is important to always have a clear vision of where you are going in the future. Clear vision, but also the ability to adapt fast will save you both: time and money. And, quite often, will ensure the survival of the business as a whole. How do you combine two, seemingly opposite concepts? Clear vision with a possibility to completely change course in a face of unforeseen circumstances? One of the techniques for dealing with the uncertainties of the future is called Future Scenario Planning. I had a chance to chat about the methodology and its applications in business with Ursula Eysin, founder of the Red Swan consulting agency and an independent consultant of the European Commission, consultant to the Austrian Ministry of, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kenya and Berlin, and countless private companies.

What is Future Scenario Planning? Scenario Planning is a famous concept developed by the U.S. Airforce in the 1940s and adapted for business by Royal Dutch Shell in 1960 which helped the company become the world’s No.2 leading oil company. The methodology has been used by the Singaporean government, in the Apartheid Conflict in South Africa, the World Energy Council, and countless companies around the world to seize the uncertain future. The methodology revolves around identifying a specific set of uncertainties that might happen in the future of your business and taking a deeper look at how those scenarios may unfold. It does not try to pretend future trends which are already more or less certain to evolve but works with critical uncertainties of the future like your competitor’s behavior for example. Future scenario planning chooses to look way ahead, to escape out of the zone of just observing trends and into a creative zone.

It all starts with thinking about the decision that has to be made in your business and understanding, what are the driving forces that affect that decision. It then becomes clear what are the key uncertainties, that can play out differently. Based on the critical uncertainties, a scenario cross is created ‒ a simple canvas where 2 axis create 4 squares ‒ one for each scenario. It’s important to imagine each scenario in detail, and think about the strategies that would be successful in such a scenario.

Pandemic: a catastrophic scenario that turned into business opportunities

Let’s look at a real example of a scenario that few of us could predict, but all of us had to deal with. The recent pandemic brought many founders and business owners to clearly understand how a long-term vision, focusing on making it no matter what and situational scenarios are important to keep up your business game. Having a plan B when catastrophes like this happen is essential. A plan B can also turn a disadvantage into a success, let’s just think of all those shops that were forced to go online, or those companies deciding to work remotely. Maybe your own venture is a COVID success story? Of course, many entrepreneurs had to think far beyond just going online of working remotely. Businesses were faced with a need to find new markets, new distribution channels, or pivot their entire model. No matter the individual story, one thing those entrepreneurs have in common is being able to quickly recognize the new circumstances and come up with a sober answer in a fast-changing environment. And that’s precisely what future scenario planning helps to achieve.

Think of where you want to be in 5, 10, and 20 years

Do you know where your business will be in 5, 10, and 20 years? When starting, many business owners are focused on making the ends meet and surviving the first year. However, in the long run, being ready for “come what may” could become a differentiating factor between the business that survive and those that don’t. No one is ever safe from uncertainties, and no one, of course, can predict the future. However, having thought of and developed possible scenarios would make a difference in how fast you and your team react to a scenario that’s unfolding in front of your eyes. Like in the example with businesses that changed course due to the pandemic. Ursula Eysin, who learned the methodology directly from the former Chief Strategist at Royal Dutch Shell, Karl Rose, is confident that future scenario thinking is applicable and in fact, much needed in the world of startups and small businesses. She believes, that those who dare to start looking into the future and asking themselves what it may look like, are the kinds of companies that have a chance at shaping the future. After all, predictions have been made that iPhone will flop as a product and horses will never be replaced by an automobile. Apple and Ford, however, dared to imagine a different future and ripped the benefits. Ursula believes that for a small business at the start of its journey, thinking 10 years ahead is as much of a tool to staying at float in the face of uncertainty, as it is a tool to expand creative thinking and open itself up to the most daring and innovative ideas. She also suggests entertaining scenario thinking, as a way you, as a founder thinks about your business. Every day, every decision you take, there are multiple scenarios that can unfold. Rather than blindly following chosen course, try approaching big decisions with a few different scenarios in mind. Some would be favorable, some won’t. What’s important is that you are aware of different outcomes internal and external factors can bring for your business, and are ready to act fact upon them.

So give it a go and try and think of the driving forces and critical uncertainties for your business in the future, and apply it to your business now...

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Natasha Zo, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Natasha Zo is a former journalist from Siberia turned international media relations specialist. She is a founder of Cosa Famosa media – a boutique PR agency on a mission to amplify messages of conscious leaders, health, and wellness entrepreneurs through earned media. Known for her connector skills, she guided a number of authors to Amazon bestseller status, booked national TV, top-tier media, and over 400 podcast interviews.



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