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Strategy: Preparing for an Uncertain Future

Does the past predict the future? We like to think it does. That’s why we study history. We look for patterns in the past and for connections between events. We then project these into the future. If A caused B in the past, it’s likely that A will again cause B in the future.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. First of all, it’s extremely hard to demonstrate cause-and-effect in the past. In fact, the only way to conclusively prove cause-and-affect is the experimental method and (fortunately or unfortunately) history is not an experiment. We may think we discern patterns in the past but we may just be wrong. As Mark Twain said, “In the real world, nothing ever happens when or where it should. It’s up to historians to fix that.”

Second, even if we can show cause-and-effect in the past, there’s no guarantee that it will happen again in the future. Things just aren’t that simple. Attitudes may change. New variables may intervene. Stuff happens. Time and again, we’ve shown that experts can’t predict the future — even in their areas of expertise — any better than throwing darts.

So, should we just give up? Well, no. Even though we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. We just have to imagine multiple possibilities. There are multiple ways that the future could play out. All we have to do is imagine them. Fortunately, there’s a structured way to do that. It’s called scenario planning and it’s the subject of the video.


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