Story Your Future with Personal Scenario Planning

As we reflect on 2011 and set goals for 2012, using techniques such as the Milestones and Memorable Moments exercise I shared last week, here’s another interesting tool.

PossibleFutures.jpg Peter Schwartz’s Your Future in 5 Easy Steps: Wired Guide to Personal Scenario Planning actually appeared back in 2009, but I came across it only recently. In its use of quadrants, personal scenario planning reminds me a lot of SWOT Analysis. Both are tools that are not overtly storied but offer strong story elements. Schwartz writes:

To be clear: Scenario planning is not prediction. The goal is to envision possible futures, which will serve as guideposts to the path forward. The payoff is a clearer view of what the future may hold and of the most advantageous route through it.

It’s the possible futures where storytelling especially enters the picture.

The process in a nutshell is:

Identify forces likely to bear on the problem, organize them into future possibilities, envision paths that would lead to those futures, and devise a strategy for surviving them all. With a sharp picture of potential futures and corresponding plans of action, you’ll always be one step ahead.

Schwartz organizes the five steps into infographics using a sample situation — the future of a career in aerospace engineering. The technique is geared to career but could conceivably be used for more personal aspects of life.

Briefly, the steps are:

  1. Listing driving forces — variables, trends, and events that will affect your mission, dividing them into certainties and uncertainties, and ranking them in order of significance.
  2. Make a quadrant grid (matrix) in which the two most important uncertainties — from the top of your list — form the axes of a grid, with each quadrant representing a potential future.
  3. Here’s the storied part: “Make the scenarios more concrete by fleshing them out into imaginary, but plausible, news stories that are emblematic of the forces at play.”
  4. “Develop strategies for coping with the four futures you’ve imagined.”
  5. Armed with what you’ve come up with, be aware and sensitive to the way the future is unfolding. “Adjust your action strategy to anticipate the future as it emerges.”

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Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...

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