Plan Ahead — 50 Years from Now
How to lose the fear of the long term
The desire to know what comes next is natural. You establish daily routines. You schedule meetings and business trips for the next month. You book your holiday several months ahead. You set goals for the next career steps and family planning in the course of the next five to ten years. But what are you planning for in 30, 40, or even 50 years?
The further you think ahead, the more difficulty you experience to envision what you should plan towards. The future is the big unknown, and this can be scary. You might have heard about V.U.C.A. — this abbreviation stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, factors that make it impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow.
V.U.C.A. is also the reason why performance metrics will never give you certainty: they are a reflection of the past. With the COVID-Virus we could witness how any prediction can be easily undermined by external events, no matter how much data backed it up.
Nevertheless, long-term planning in uncertain times is essential, for your business strategy as much as for your private life. To plan 30, 40 and 50 years ahead, you need to anticipate and prepare for several futureS, or scenarios. Scenarios are narratives inspired by alternate developments of uncertainties.
This is how you can start:
1. Know your mental barriers
We are inclined to believe numbers more than our intuition. Creativity, a much-needed skill to imagine alternate futures, is still considered a “soft skill” as opposed to a “hard skill” like analytical thinking, thus gets neglected very often. Scientists differentiate between convergent thinking, the inclination to look for logical answers, and divergent thinking, which implies the exploration of multiple perspectives. Using techniques like brainstorming in a diverse group of people helps activate divergent thinking processes and to explore various perspectives.
2. Ask a question
Scenario Planning is a framework that can answer questions like: “How will we communicate with one another in 30 years?”, “Which new technologies will be around in 40 years?”, “What could disrupt our economy in 50 years?”. To define a problem statement for your business, look at the business model canvas and select an area like core activities, key partners, or customer relationships.
3. Frame the dynamics
When you find your question, you need to zoom out and analyze what risks and opportunities might be influencing this problem statement. Think about the STEEP categories like social, technological, economical, ecological, and political forces. Collect anything that comes to your mind before you prioritize these factors on their impact and degree of uncertainty. Events with high impact and high uncertainty can facilitate you to discover blind spots and plan for the long term.
4. Create narratives
A scenario is very much like a story. With a map of the most important external factors, you can create different answers to your question. This is a very creative task where you can make use of skills like writing, drawing, or prototyping. If you are not into writing, why not text a newspaper headline of the future? Not a skilled painter? Look for visuals online and create a mood board. As for prototyping — from lego to cardboard and a landing page builder there are a million ways to make your scenario tangible for you and your team.
While it is impossible to predict the future, anyone is able to predict the possible. Reviewing your strategies in the event of certain scenarios can help make your company more resilient. And clear visions of the future give yourself, your team, and your business a clear direction to head towards.
Interested in trying out scenario planning for your business?
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org