Plotting Your Scenarios: An Introduction to the Art and Process of Scenario Planning by Peter Schwartz and Jay Ogilvy

“Plotting Your Scenarios” by GBN cofounders Peter Schwartz and Jay Ogilvy is an invaluable introduction to the art and process of scenario planning, originally published in Learning From the Future (Liam Fahey and Robert Randall, eds, Wiley, 1998).

Scenarios are narratives of alternative environments in which today’s decisions may be played out. They are not predictions. Nor are they strategies. Instead they are more like hypotheses of different futures specifically designed to highlight the risks and opportunities involved in specific strategic issues.

To be an effective planning tool, scenarios should be written in the form of absorbing, convincing stories that describe a broad range of alternative futures relevant to an organization’s success. Thoughtfully constructed, believable plots help managers to become deeply involved in the scenarios and perhaps gain new understanding of how their organization can manage change as a result of this experience. The more involved managers get with scenarios, the more likely it becomes that they will recognize their important but less obvious implications. Moreover, scenarios with engrossing plots can be swiftly communicated throughout the organization and will be more easily remembered by decision-makers at all levels of management.

This essay offers an approach to developing alternative scenarios with engrossing plots. Part One describes two different methods for answering a fundamental challenge: how to whittle the virtually infinite number of possible futures that could be described down to a finitely manageable three or four plots that will shed the most light on a specific organization’s future. Part Two then addresses the inverse question: Once you have determined the skeletal premises of just three or four scenarios, how do you put flesh on the skeletons? How do you elaborate the basic logics of skeletal scenarios into compelling stories? If Part One is about whittling an infinite number of possible futures down to a finite number of skeletal scenarios, Part Two is then about beefing up those skeletal outlines to discover the insights managers need. Part Three then adds 10 tips based on our 20 years of experience developing and using scenarios.