Scenario Planning

I was introduced to Scenario Planning as a graduate student. It left an impression on me as a fantastic preparedness tool. Primarily used as a collective knowledge building exercise for organizations to plan for the future, it nevertheless can be quite useful for imagining all sorts of outcomes - even for storytellers. In particular, I can imagine it would be very useful to novelists of dystopian social science fiction!

At school I spent many hours using SP with my colleague (and now close friend), Frazer Wilson. I got together with him recently to dust off the cobwebs and see if we could use SP to imagine the “Future of Work” in a post-Covid world. I post the results of our second meeting, below.

Apologies to those who don’t know us well but Frazer and I can really digress when we get going. Believe me, the first meeting was even more rambling than the second! I’m posting this up to get feedback, especially from any of you who might be familiar with leading SP sessions (so that you can come and help us).

I shared some SP research with Frazer prior to this recording which is why he refers to the Oxford University approach (Oxford Scenarios Programme at Said Biz School). There are some interesting videos from them on the Web. That said, there aren’t any actual recordings of people doing SP on camera. This I find very strange. The Internet is full of many weird and wonderful things, esoteric and obscure, but no scenario planning hands-on to speak of!

This is our initial (and somewhat bumbling attempt) to change that.

Here is our second scenario planning meeting wherein we invited two additional participants - Ramin and Glenn.

The current focus: “Future of Work” from the point of view of a worker, most likely a freelancer.

x-axis: Consolidated <> Distributed
y-axis: High Societal Security <> Low Societal Security

Social Security in the original model is an individual’s confidence in their personal security, in the economic situation, employment security, etc. If you’re in a Scandinavian society where there’s a large degree of safety net - either from the State or from philanthropic entities - this might make you more entrepreneurial (risk-taking) or less so. Different scenarios can tease out different outcomes.

Scenario Planning is an exercise where you take a group of stakeholders within an organization and confront them with different exogenous shocks and trends to explore and rehearse reactions. They are forced to consider the marketplace and their physical environment. In our model we’ve opted not to think about a particular firm but the POV of a particular actor - in this case a worker.

Consolidate vs. Distributed could be considered from the point of view of workers - employees working in a high tower or remote workers working for Gitlab. It could be business monopolies vs cottage industries that work together (open source). It could be in manufacturing it’s a large factory on one end and a bunch of individuals with 3D printers in an association of cottage manufacturers on the other.

Robotics and automation have functionally replaced a lot of workers in a large plant. What do you do with all of the out-of-work workers? Must they join the Gig Economy?

Warehouse picking and packing done by robots, delivery by drones.
People living to 80-90 yrs - that’s a lot of years where people don’t feel relevant when put out of work.

In Germany, the government will finance a retooling when there’s a dramatic change in the market. They don’t want to deal with the cost of making someone unemployed. They build in a safety valve so that if workers are put at risk the company or sovereign must take some of the responsibility to prevent the worker from becoming redundant in perpetuity. Workers are also allowed to take seats on the Board of the company to make sure they have a say in the governance.

Europe - civil servant or private sector? US - if you were a successful business person, you felt the need to do something in public sector (or vice versa). In the UK, you can mix both. In Asia, you definitely have both. The Continent has a higher degree of misinformation between public and private sectors in that there is little understanding between the two worlds.

Covid-19 is going to put an amazing debt burden on every society. This will be an opportunity to address the inequalities that is being recognized and has led to populist bandwagon. The financial challenges are enormous. We’ve never had a global hard-stop in history.

Consolidated: Public Transportion. Factory Automation. Robot Warehouse.
Fragmented: Personal Transportation. Drone delivery.

High Societal Security: Retooling Programs / re-hiring incentives. Workers participate in Corp Governance. Less financial inequality? Public Health provision. Higher life spans? Redistributed capital. Solidarity / unification. Debt? Redundancy for exogenous shocks. What is the firm?
Low Societal Security: Who bears unemployment risk? Shorter life spans? Every man for himself. Family size difference? Little redundancy, low resilience to exogenous shocks. Savings & debt?

Staggering debt exists in all scenarios but will it be dealt with differently in each?

Four possible scenarios emerging:
“I am the Firm” - (High Security, Distributed) - lots of SMEs.
“Sink or Swim” - (Low Security, Distributed) - scarcity, high competition.
“Monopoly as Paternas” - (Low Security, Consolidated)
“What’s in it for me?” (High Security, Consolidated) - abundance, low competition; workers can take it or leave it; little loyalty to ‘the firm’.

Some additional thoughts:
I am the Firm - UBI is good. Startup incentives. Globalization still works.
Sink or Swim - repatriation of everything. Chronically higher unemployment levels.
Monopoly as Paternas - UBI’s and handouts are bad.
What’s in it for me? - low competition.