The future as "business unusual" : a call for scenario planning

Bradfield, Ronald (2017) The future as "business unusual" : a call for scenario planning. In: The Banking Sector in Oman. College of Banking and Financial Studies, Muscat, Oman, pp. 139-153. ISBN 9789996915994

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Abstract

While there has always been change in the world and a concern about the future, this chapter begins by arguing that the rate of change has accelerated and will likely continue to do so, resulting in an ongoing state of profound turbulence, complexity and uncertainty. Unfortunately the human brain is not well equipped to dealing with uncertainty; we all have a deeply ingrained ‘mental model’ through which we interpret what we see going on, and we tend to assume that what has worked in the past, will work in the future. As a consequence, in planning for the future organizations tend to develop a single point strategic plan based on extrapolation of historical performance. Governments meanwhile are increasingly developing and publishing ‘vision’ statements, which represent a picture of the desirable future for the country. However while these and extrapolative-based strategies have value, as The European Commission Forward Studies Unit notes, “In studying the future one thing becomes clear; there is not one certain future that we are inexorably moving towards, but many possible futures ... Hence, treating the future as a single certain outcome is a high risk strategy”. What this chapter proposes is an alternative – scenario planning - which takes as a starting point that the future is unlikely to be a linear extension of the past; the future will be shaped by an amalgam of so-called ‘driving forces’ in the contextual environment over which neither governments nor businesses have control over. The objective of scenario planning then is to examine and understand these forces, their interactions and causal relationships, and how they may combine to create a range of futures which are quite different from those envisaged under conventional planning models. The chapter concludes with a discussion on some of the forces already evident which will play a role in determining the future of Oman, and proposes that CBFS initiate a scenario planning initiative to look at how these and other forces will affect the long-term future of Oman.