Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
This week’s contribution is from Peter Evans…
I thought I’d discuss scenario planning and how it can contribute to adaptive capacity through developing organisational learning and knowledge. Scenario planning is a way making sense about possible futures through developing, or authoring, and telling stories. These stories are a way of trying to link the uncertainties of the future with making decisions today. As Peter Drucker stated:
Strategic planning does not deal with future decisions. It deals with the futurity of present decisions. What we have to do today is to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow.
Perhaps the most successful example of scenario planning in use is with Royal Dutch Shell‘s testing and retesting of the implications of various scenarios as, in effect, “thought experiments”. But these experiments enabled Shell’s senior managers to have learned about a range of possible futures and so could adapt effectively to the massive increases in oil prices following the Yum Kippur war. Scenario planning can be should be a key tool for developing organisational knowledge and learning as a process to explore and challenge our thinking and our mental models so that what we know now does not limit what we might “know” in the future. Like many concepts in learning and knowledge development, scenario planning is a social process based on knowledge exchange and the co-creation of deeper understanding, of deeper knowing. Focused on increasing knowledge about the external environment and how these impact on the business – scenarios are a key tool of learning in complexity. As Peter Schwartz states:
Thinking through [scenario] stories, and talking in depth about their implications, brings each person’s unspoken assumptions about the future to the surface. Scenarios are thus the most powerful vehicles I know for challenging our “mental models” about the world and lifting the “blinders” that limit our creativity and resourcefulness.
The practice of scenario planning then focuses on the implications of such stories as they challenge our mental models. These mental models are our assumptions that are tied up implicitly or unconsciously in the embedded knowledge of the firm. So scenario planning is a fundamental process of organisational learning as it challenges the very basic knowledge we think we “know” about our organisations, their processes, practices, routines and ways of doing. A key strength of the process is that it is social as it seeks multiple perspectives in developing a shared view of uncertain futures. Organisational anticipation and adaptive capacity is developed as managers explore their tacit views of the future and co-learn how the “know whats” and the “know hows” required will differ from those of today. New knowledge can then be rapidly generated in response to the actual unfolding of those futures. So scenario planning is a key process in the knowledgeable and learning organisation but does such a process drive the knowledge and strategic learning practices in your firm?