This is a relatively easy but never the less insightful read on strategic planning for un-fore seen futures and on the use of scenarios as an effective tool of communication for strategic planning. Examples from Schwartz’s past experiences working with companies like Shell and later on for his own consultancy are great case studies of success and learning from failure.
He cautions the readers against treating scenario building as a tool to predict the future. Rather than predict one certain future, scenarios intend merely to describe and simulate multiple plausible futures. The goal of scenario-based strategic planning is to free people from conventional wisdom and what he refers to as “the official future” organizational groupthink encourages. This freedom allows people to see many plausible futures, their causes, their consequences and their signs, empowering people and organizations both to be appropriately prepared for the future, regardless of which one actually arrives and which one they want to work toward.
Schwartz’s strategic scenarios are based on the tensions between driving forces, predetermined elements and critical uncertainties, which he collects by collecting primary data and then interviewing (secondary) the key people in the concerned fields.
His methodology STEEP which stands for society, technology, economics, politics and the environment. It is a great frame work to look at future trends on a Macro level, although it can be filtered to micro level through iteration process. It’s the relationship of STEEP with the Predetermined Elements and what he calls the Critical Uncertainties create the holistic picture.
As of his 2025 scenarios most of which are quiet plausible and we hear of them in segments, but he identifies a pattern and builds up the narrative, scenario around it. In my humble opinion some of the societal scenarios are more general, the economic scenario almost seem China-phobic, India and Brazil are mentioned again and again as growing economies but are extremely different from each other and vary from China as well. They all face different challenges and have different strengths. Political future scape seem to be void of a certain depth. What’s missing from these scenarios is the regional politics of Mid-East, the tension between India and China, complete invisibility of Russia from the picture and the question of definition of East (from Mid-East, South Asia to China all of them consider them as The East, and none of them share either culture or history).