Diversity and Emergent Strategies

I just read a great article from the Long Now Foundation entitled, “Scenario Planning for the Long-Term” in which it stresses two of my favorite things - diversity and scenario planning.

Diversity is oft-touted but generally in the sense of ethnic diversity and less often as cognitive diversity. It is the latter that is the concern of this article and why it is so important to good scenario planning. By ‘cognitive’ diversity, I mean the differences of perception and opinion shaped by nature (neurological design) and nurture (life experience). Ethnic diversity has an impact on the latter (life experience), to be sure, but it doesn’t encompass the whole enchilada. The article begins with a discussion of ‘mental maps’ and how they can be both a help and a hindrance.

As the article elaborates, a lack of (cognitive) diversity can lead to spectacular business failures (one of the examples given is IBM’s decision not to go into personal computers because of a misguided cost-benefit analysis based on faulty assumptions of a handful of people without cognitive diversity).

The other important point is that scenario planning is not about predicting the future but about a process of learning how to make better decisions. You must imagine different possibilities and then figure out how to get from here to there. The principal difference being that predictions only make slight deviations from what is understood about the here and now and miss the big surprises. By casting out big surprises and then analyzing paths between them, you have a shot at casting new mindsets - changing the ‘mental maps’.

Another point I like is the discussion about ‘strategic conversation’ around ‘strategic options’ and how this leads to ‘emergent strategies’. Given all the political polarization of today and the empathy impasse that is caused by it, this is especially relevant. Scenario planning offers a less emotional way to get disparate brains thinking about a common challenge and collaborate towards a shared solution.

In the emergent strategy model, a group of brains must imagine different scenarios together then fan out to create new knowledge and research to figure out the coping mechanisms. This is a process of dialogue that is emergent and not top-down.

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