Advisers’ Choice Series: What If …
Think of scenarios as a mental workout for you and your organization. They give you three kinds of exercise that conventional planning approaches don't offer. That makes them better in helping you get fit and plan for uncertainty.
1. Scenarios stretch
Scenarios force you to stretch your thinking. Often in scenarios you develop two extreme options. So imagine what would be the effect of a 50-percent cut in your fundraising investment budget or a doubling to 200 percent. Imagine if we repeated the exercise so this time you had to fundraise with 25 percent of your current staff team or with four times the number of people. How would that change what's possible? This exercise helps liberate your mind and strategy.
2. Scenario scan
In exercise, you need to look around and notice what's happening or you can hurt yourself. We often don't imagine things that then come to pass and overtake us. Think of the poor Pony Express people riding hard to move letters in five days across the U.S. — entirely ignorant of the telegraph men putting up poles. They were blindsided in the same way Polaroid was blindsided by digital photography. In many ways Kiva completely blindsided all of the big international nonprofit organizations running "adopt a child" programs. Their basic "$20-a-month adoption" mechanic seemed destined to last forever. But Kiva created a whole new way of thinking among donors that essentially eliminated the charity middleman and connected adults in a more equal way. Many groups are now trying — very late in the day — to launch a "me too" response.
3. Scenario swing
A swing is a defined, predicable movement. Well-developed scenarios don't just identify possible outcomes; they might help you work out probable results or situations. The process of describing or analyzing data to identify possibilities could make one outcome seem very likely. The logic of the data could make logical narrative sequences of events seem almost inevitable. Pierre Wack, one of the lead planners at Shell oil company — the commercial scenario-planning pioneer — called this logical narrative "predetermined outcomes." He used the example of the 1,500-mile-long Ganges river in India. A heavy rain in the Himalayas would lead, he said, certainly to a water rush in Allahladad and then inevitably to a flood in Benares at the end of the water journey on the plains.