It is not certain that everything is uncertain

“It is not certain that everything is uncertain” – this quote of Blaise Pascal is an optimistic point of view in today’s world. Everything has been changing so fast, the world is volatile (change goes up and down, the speed and scale of change can vary), uncertain (because there are many unknowns about to happen next), complex (multiple drivers of change affect each other) and ambiguous (lack of clear meaning, accompanied by a great potential for misreads of the situation).

In this VUCA world, it is necessary to look for new ways of thinking out of the box – market leaders need to be ready for new players and new ways of competing. Is the world totally unpredictable? Not really! Based on tested framework, we can take a look into the future. Is your company the market leader? Learn how to keep your position in a fast-changing world.

Foresight as a tool for dealing with future challenges
Dealing with the VUCA context needs special tools, which were design to deal with its challenges. One of these tools is strategic foresight in the business world known as a corporate foresight. Strategic foresight is a planning-oriented discipline related to the study of the future. It is not about better predictions of the future, but about better preparedness for different futures that are all possible and plausible. It is also a planning technique and a way of critical thinking about business environments when we consider successful, long-term strategies.

Foresight is not the same as forecasting. Forecasting is the process of making predictions of the future based on past data and most commonly by the analysis of trends. In contrast to forecasting, foresight has the power to enlighten weak signals that can be overlooked or omitted using statistical methods. Foresight uses both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Foresight uses tools like: scenarios of the future, scanning for weak signals, considering alternative futures, the analysis of game changers, wild cards and trend analysis. All of these tools may be used to think about different possibilities, alternative futures and upcoming scenarios letting the company identify futures challenges and opportunities. This information is the foundation of better decision-making today, to gain more profit tomorrow.

Take an example from Shell
Foresight is not something new, but an excellent tool to support planning processes. A case study of strategic planning at Royal Dutch/ Shell may be taken as a proof. Shell started forming its framework in 1980, and now is widely considered to be an innovator in strategic management. Shell is a large, decentralized company, operating in over one hundred countries throughout the world, managing a level of complexity and uncertainty which is hard to imagine for many. Shell’s interest in foresight started in late 1973, when oil prices nearly quadrupled overnight. A similar situation happened in 1979 with a second shock because of the Iran War-Iraq war. Many variables, especially economic and political, are beyond the control of even the largest corporations. Royal Dutch/Shell wants to be prepared, but rather than trying to predict an uncertain future, Shell attempts to be prepared for many possible futures. Shell`s approach to planning reflects an evolutionary process of many decades. Now Shell’s planning framework consists of four elements of which one of them are scenarios. The company uses scenarios as a practical tool for systematic thinking about the future.  

Start to think about alternative futures
Experts say that there is no simple formula for generating good, useful scenarios. Techniques matter, but the process of building scenarios is more of an art than a science. The benefits of scenarios is mostly that they stimulate managers to think in systematic and disciplined ways about the future. Scenarios make the organization a more insightful observer of the business environment. If your company is a market leader, strategic foresight will help you to keep your position in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world of changes.

1.    Paul J.H. Schoemaker, Cornelius A.J.M. van der Heijden, Strategic planning at Royal Dutch/ Shell in: Journal of Strategic Change, Vol. 2, 157-171 (1993)

Ewa Hordejuk

CX Consultant

Business analyst with background as an entrepreneur and researcher in advertising agency’s strategy department. Educated in the field of sociology, management and business process engineering. She likes to think, read and write about the future and create scenarios of the future.

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