Caution: Scenario Bias Ahead

To varying degrees, the selection of driving forces to drive and shape the development of future scenarios will be influenced by personal biases. And as the leader of a scenario exercise you will constantly be in the position to influence these choices. The trap here is in repeatedly using the same drivers that a) you personally feel are most important (bias), and b) you personally feel most comfortable with (safe).

This is a trap I fell for.

Early days I tended to influence scenario participants across different industries to adopt the same driving forces to form at least some of their critical drivers. This habit was driven by my biased belief that these particular drivers were most important (undoubtedly they are important, but whether they were the most important for multiple industries is a point of debate).

My bias was also driven by a level of comfort. I knew these drivers. I knew the broad directions in which they might influence the scenarios. As an inexperienced facilitator this knowledge gave me some semblance of control and comfort. The result was a process that reinforced similar themes scenario after scenario, client after client.

My actions were those of a novice. I was clinging to the safety of what I knew, rather than trusting the process. The value of scenarios comes in their capacity to produce surprising results. And novelty can rarely emerge if the process is too controlled or safe.

It was only by letting go of the security of familiar drivers that I was able to experience the true re-perceiving power of scenarios. The creative and intuitive act of generating scenarios allows participants to build meaningful scenarios from a multitude of driving force combinations. It’s never simply a case of choose these particular drivers or the whole process falls over.

So, while the ultimate value of scenarios is in exploring futures that could really make a difference to the client, the subjectivity of the exercise means that groups of people are rarely likely to be in total agreement about just what the drivers of these scenarios might be. And that’s ok. After all, only hindsight can be the true judge of what really matters. The key is to accept the subjectivity and trust the process. Just because particular variables are chosen to drive the scenarios does not mean the influence of other important variables is excluded. On the contrary all important forces for change should be represented in the scenarios, and invariably they are.

The learning here for would-be scenario practitioners is:

1. Be conscious of biases – Before each scenario exercise, note what you feel are the most important drivers of change and be conscious about overtly influencing participants into adopting a similar position.

2. Accept subjectivity – Defining drivers that are important for the future is relatively easy; choosing those drivers which are most important is sure to raise the hackles of some. Trust that the creative, intuitive process will produce meaningful scenarios no matter which important drivers are chosen; and these scenarios will include the influence of all important driving forces.

3. Spurn safety, pursue novelty – Even the most proficient of scenario planners can repeatedly return to what they know best, habitually churning out scenarios that have the same underlying themes. Over time, like any idea or product, these scenarios pass their use-by date, failing to detect significant change at the fringes. What’s important is that the drivers chosen are always pertinent to the client’s strategic challenge, not to the facilitator’s strengths.


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