The Art of the Long View

Author: Peter Schwartz

The author tells of a huge portfolio of own experiences .

A few things that stick with that are mainly (not in that order in the book)

  • “ Appendix: Steps to developing scenarios ”
  • Chapter 8: ” Composing a plot ” .

While the appendix tells the story – or rather the procedure – of developing scenarios, the eighth chapter tells us that there are a number of plots that are more fruitful for scenario planning. These are:

  • Winners and losers
  • Challenge and Response
  • Evolution

Other possible plots are:

  • Revolution
  • Cycles
  • Infinite possibility
  • The Lone Ranger
  • “ My Generation ”

I would like to go into these:

“Winners and losers” means the resources are limited, and if one party becomes richer, the other becomes poorer . Life is a zero sum game (Lester Thurow ). Only one candidate can become president, only one country can dominate the economy, only one person becomes CEO. There is only one market leader. Conflict cannot be avoided. This sometimes creates alliances, in which with whom one is involved can be more important than what one deals with together. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Conspiracy theories are common and widely believed.

“Challenge and Response” : two scenarios are eg. “the economic system will crash” or “we will overcome the problems and move forward in stable prosperity”. These extremes may not occur, but a “management of imbalance” is possible, where we have to ask the question how we are going to learn to live with them, not how we can get rid of them. The system will survive, although it might bring us to the brink. The idea is that we undergo one test after another, through which we grow. Succeeding in each test is therefore less important than using it to grow. The Japanese definition of optimism is valid: “to have enough challenges to give meaning to life.” You look at every difficulty as an opportunity to learn. It gives confidence to an organization to believe that people will want to work with them to solve problems. To do this, the organization must meet the public halfway.

“ Evolution ” : evolutionary changes are largely biological in nature. Nature gives way to industry, changing the view of the city and its surroundings. These changes are hard to spot unless you specifically focus on them. Once you catch them, you can manage them easily, as they tend to be slow in nature. The most common evolutionary plot currently is that of technology. This emerges slowly from other technologies, mature and then suddenly become disruptive in the world. Technology is also evolutionary because it has to fit into an existing environment. If you really want to make major changes to existing technology, you also need to make sure the environment can be ready. Edison had success with the electrical lamp because he devised a system of electricity metering systems around it that supported it. The competition of organizations also seems to follow the rules that apply to competition in nature. Decisions to adopt new technology have a lot to do with exploring a fertile niche in a competitive ecosystem.

“ Revolution ” : This is about dramatic changes, usually unpredictable in nature . Black swans are one such example. These are “discontinuities” like the Watergate scandal that toppled Nixon. Discontinuities can also be disasters, caused by nature or by man. Examples are Covid-19, sudden climate change, a large meteorite impact, a series of severe earthquakes…

“ Cycles ” : small towns can grow big with industrialization, and shrink back with their disappearance . Economy goes in waves. Restricting drug shipments caused the market to flood. Also with locally manufactured drugs. Because drugs too follow the market principles of supply and demand. The timing of cycles is important to exploit them. That timing is unpredictable unless you can find and measure indicators that require you to actively explore the location or the market or the terrain or whatever. The only thing that can help you is awareness, in whatever form. Cycles also often have delays, which can make them dangerously misinterpreted: when everything is going well, there is often a problem looming, and vice versa. As a result, a cyclical plot will often give rise to a sense of scarcity, giving rise to a “winners and losers” plot.

“ Infinite possibility ” : There is the impression that “growth is inevitable” . The only question is how high it can go, how much can be expected. It starts with a public perception: the world will grow and improve, more and more, always. It’s a seductive perception: many things happen that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Money is invested in research, people spend instead of saving for the future, excess comes in many forms. From 1975, the computer industry was in this plot situation, until now.

“ The Lone Ranger ” : This highlights a system full of entrepreneurs. It follows a social logic, driven by a street sense and street wisdom that is created in an incoherent way. The strong order of politics, commerce, and technology does not influence the individuality of our souls. However, there are also problems with the Lone Ranger scenario: when two Lone Rangers come to blows, it becomes a “Winners and Losers” conflict.

“ My Generation ” : the youth of today and tomorrow are growing up with different experiences than our / previous generations . After WWII from 1963 there was more “ affluence , peace , love and understanding ”. With sufficient supplies of housing, food, drink, work and companionship, they could focus more on self-expression, status, and the meaning of life. Scenarios should also always focus on the influence of culture on people’s values, especially across generations, especially for large generations.

A note of caution: when people think about scenarios that go negative, they very often think too negatively, what you should do is also look for feedback mechanisms or other influences that can have a dampening effect.

The steps were then explained in the appendix itself. These are here:

  1. Identify the issue or decision to focus on.
  2. Key forces in the local environment that influence success.
  3. Identifying driving forces in the macro environment that influence key forces.
  4. Sort by importance and uncertainty.
  5. Select the scenario logics.
  6. Work out the scenarios.
  7. Identify the implications of the different scenarios.
  8. Select the leading indicators and signposts.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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