Brain power

Scenario mapping your life

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Scenario planning was first popularized by Herman Khan in the 1950s at the RAND corporation as a way to describe the future by outlining various ways in which it could potentially unfold. It’s a method that, while commonly used, was perhaps not something that was prominent in the public consciousness.

That was until it emerged that in 2018 the World Economic Forum, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security ran a scenario planning exercise to simulate an outbreak of a novel coronavirus that grew into a global pandemic.  The various scenarios outlined during the event were uncannily prescient of the events that unfolded as the first known cases of Covid-19 spread across the world from China.

“Scenario planning is about making informed assumptions on what the future is going to bring and how the environment within which we operate will change over time,” says EY’s Lance Mortlock in his recent book Disaster Proof.  “It is about identifying potential uncertainties or opportunities that we may face and challenging prevailing assumptions.”

Scenarios of your life

Typically, scenario planning is done by multinational companies or government agencies to help them deal with the inherent complexities of whatever prickly problem they’re grappling with.  A global pandemic, for instance, is a common use for scenario planning as it’s the kind of “black swan” event that is both largely unforeseen but also incredibly severe.

While it’s impossible to ever truly predict the future, scenario planning does allow us to explore some possible ways that the future might unfold and understand some of the probabilities and implications involved in those various scenarios.

It’s an approach that futurist April Rinne believes can equally be applied to our careers.  In her latest book Flux: 8 Superpowers For Thriving In Constant Change, she argues that scenario planning can be invaluable in helping us to map out the possible futures available to us.

“Scenario mapping is a type of forecasting that maps out many different scenarios, given a particular situation, with the goal of providing smart, grounded ideas of what the future might hold,” she says.  “In practical terms, it’s a powerful mechanism to guide the shift from prediction to preparation.”

Mapping the future

Rinne suggests that most scenario maps are constructed along two axes that together represent two key themes that you wish to explore alongside one another.  This makes a map featuring four distinct quadrants.

“Any range of issues can be selected,” she explains.  “For example: a decade from now, will a four-year college degree be the customary credential, or will there be a new options better geared towards today’s world?”

If you would like to utilize scenario planning to assess your own career, there are five simple steps you can use to get you started:

  1. Identify the key driving forces, which will include the major trends and variables that you believe will affect your career. These should be viewed as the key determining factors in your career and should be categorized as either “uncertainties” or “relative certainties”.
  1. Build your scenario grid by selecting the most important uncertainties from your previous step as the axes on your 2×2 grid. You can then start to flesh out the grid with possible futures.
  1. The possible futures you construct should be fictional and yet plausible at the same time. The aim is to make them both tangible and real.
  1. Examine the implications and how they can be navigated so that you begin to understand the key factors in each scenario and any discrete actions that may follow from them.
  1. Lastly, you’ll need to develop and track key indicators that allow you to understand whether particular scenarios are playing out and whether your actions in them are working or not.

That we’re living in uncertain times is beyond doubt, and this was certainly the case even before Covid emerged and added its own spice to the mix.  The pandemic has prompted many to consider their futures and commentators speculate that we’re in the midst of the “Great Resignation” as so many are pondering their options and treating the pandemic as a reset button on their lives and on their careers.

Given the inherent uncertainties of the future of work, we may be in a position where we know we want to do something differently but don’t know quite what that different will look like.  Scenario planning can help you to think through some options in a systematic and realistic manner.  While it isn’t a prediction and won’t provide you with any guarantees as to your future prospects, it will provide you with some guideposts as to the various paths forward you can take and the various factors involved in taking those paths.

Hopefully, that will mean that when you do take that first step, you’ll be doing so with a clear picture of what that future might entail and the plans you’ll need to make it a reality.

Article source: Scenario Mapping Your Life.

Header image source: Adapted from Peter Ward on Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and Work.com, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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