Narrating the Vision: Scenarions in Action; Scenarios-Stories about the Future-Are Important Forecasting Tools for Organizations. Two Business Consultants Illustrate How Scenarios Foster Strategic Thinking, Learning, and Communication, and How They Can Be Used to Develop Plans, Mitigate Uncertainty, and Guard against Potential Problems

Article excerpt

Human beings are wired for stories. Throughout history, knowledge was transferred through speech, pictures, or writing. While there is a role for using other means to convey knowledge, such as PowerPoint slides, they often do not do a good job of communication because they lack contextual meaning. Stories, on the other hand, relate context.

Stories, by their very nature, look backward. There is a lot to learn from the past. Nobody wants to go through life in an organization or business looking in a rearview mirror, however, so stories that look forward, or scenarios, are receiving increasing attention in corporate boardrooms and government agencies. Using scenarios in the planning process is a useful strategy for coping with the many uncertainties in today's globalizing environment. Straight-line budget or business planning projections generally fail to account for chaotic events that upset the status quo.

The uncertainties in today's world stem from fast-changing technologies, new business processes, political shifts, terrorist attacks, and other sources, and business leaders need to anticipate them in order to cope with them successfully. One way to do that is through scenarios.

Futuristic scenarios--stories that paint a vivid picture of a future state--can help provide vision and leadership in a narrative format as well as communicate the organizational vision.

The scenario on page 28 illustrates a future vision for an organization and shows how an enterprise's architecture fits together as a coherent whole. This fictitious scenario involves the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent federal agency charged by the U.S. Congress with investigating civil aviation accidents in the United States and significant accidents in other modes of transportation.

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The scenario paints a vivid word picture of a future state. It tells a story through the eyes of a protagonist. There is an element of crisis or time-sensitivity, creating a compelling sense of anticipation in the minds of readers to discover how the protagonist resolves the crisis. The scenario is short so as not to discourage readers pressed for time. Last, there is a connectedness with the audience--some aspects of the story (the relationship of the protagonist with her son, for instance) directly relate to the experiences and interests of the intended audience.

The scenario touches equally on human, process, and technology issues. The human element involves sharing tacit and explicit knowledge throughout the organization as common practice. This tacit and explicit knowledge (intellectual capital) can then be digitized as structural capital, becoming an organizational asset rather than an individual asset. For example, notice how Joanna Sanchez provides video clips of her recently completed Webcast to the NTSB Academy as part of normal business processes. Her knowledge and experience can now be shared throughout the enterprise. Implied changes in business processes are designed into the scenario.

Besides illustrating the future nature of business from a visioning perspective, the scenario shows how networks, computer applications, information, and business processes work together to meet strategic goals.

The salient points of the scenario have been indicated with links to explanatory text in the margin. The illustrations reinforce the scenario by providing visual cues to the narrative. Explicitly informing the reader of the key points of the scenario helps stakeholders analyze the underlying basis. It also fosters continued strategic conversation regarding the future direction of the organization.

Building Scenarios To Achieve Visions

How does a nation, city, or governmental agency lead transformations from industrial-age thinking and organization to knowledge-based societies and organizations? They do so by envisioning it; visions are the goals, whereas scenarios may show how we can achieve them. …