Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Guide to "Transformative Scenario Planning"

A book review by: Eva Teruzzi
Product Marketing and Business Development
Fiera Milano

Published in 2012, Transformative Scenario Planning: Working together to change the future is a non-fiction book that can greatly benefit anyone interested in designing and facilitating multi-stakeholder change in “stuck” contexts, especially political and social ones. The narrative approach chosen by Adam Kahane makes the readers dive into a powerful storytelling experience, where methodological learning is combined with a vivid narration of actual projects.

One doesn’t need to be a scenario expert to understand the evolution Kahane brings about in this book. While scenarios are created as “objective” stories - to be used by management for strategic planning purposes - Kahane posits that scenario creators can be “passionate” change makers at the same time.
Creativity and change professionals will find many familiar concepts embedded in a practical guide coming from the life-long experience of Adam Kahane.  Kahane is a scenario expert who worked for 20 years as head of Scenario at Royal Dutch Shell, and, for about the same time, as transformative scenario facilitator at international level.

The book is organized around 9 chapters addressing transformative scenario planning insights, process, tools and tips.

In chapters 1 and 2 Kahane reminds us that “necessity can be the mother of creativity,” while telling us how he created his methodology, and what differentiates it from traditional scenario planning. It all started in the ’90s while he was helping South Africa transit from Apartheid to the Mandela's era.

In chapters 3 to 7 he presents his five-step transformative process. Creating the team - chapter 3 - is a key step: in fact, 50% of Kahane’s projects failed during the multi-stakeholder team creation step. The approach will sound somewhat familiar to the creativity expert: (i) to create mutual understanding we must “suspend assumptions,” and (ii) creative change projects are  “emergent” and arise from iterated conversations.  

Chapter 4 is about “building up a rough shared understanding of what is happening in the system by enabling more people to see more of the whole.” Specifically, we must look for driving forces and say things that, if impacted even by a small change, can produce major changes in the system variables. According to Kahane, we must  “breath in” current reality by freeing  ourselves “from prejudice and old perceptions,” then we must “let new perceptions cook,” and finally, we must “draw conclusions about what to do next.” Creative Problem Solving experts will see some connections  with their methodology, and also some tools to consider, e.g. (i) asking team members to bring a physical object, to metaphorically address their understanding of the situation; and (ii) making the team do a “learning journey” in order to discover something useful they didn’t know.

Once the team has its driving forces, it can start working on creating stories about “plausible futures” (chapter 5). Stories must be “relevant, challenging, plausible and clear,” and  can be generated “deductively or inductively.” The deductive approach produces “adaptive” scenarios. Instead, the inductive approach produces “creative” scenarios, applying creativity tools such as brainstorming and clustering.  Kahane provides also some tips for effective scenario communication, such as to “choose names for the scenarios” that provide metaphorical power, and to document them so that they can be easily understood and remembered.

Chapter 6 introduces the key discontinuities with traditional scenarios: how teams can make sense of stories and identify what they can and must do in the future. Much of this step resonates with chapter 3 content.

In chapter 7, Kahane provides examples of actions taken in his projects “to multiply a new way of working,” while in chapters 8 and 9 he reminds us that only “new stories can generate new realities,”  which, eventually, “can mutate into myths,” thus giving us more courage to act.

I found the book easy to read and dense at the same time. More reflections on how to prevent projects from failing during the team creation phase, and how to make the process work in corporate environments, would have been beneficial.

I think Transformative Scenario Planning methodology can be effectively used together with CPS, especially in the Clarification and Transformation phases, as it provides add-on tools and insights – e.g. how to create mutual understanding, identify and select challenges, and create the vision.  I also think that Kahane would benefit from CPS knowledge to make his implementation step  more robust – e.g. with tools for exploring acceptance.

Kahane’s book effectively turns scenario planning into a tool for enacting change in “stuck situations.”  In doing so, he reminds us about the need of suspending judgment and the importance of storytelling in fostering shared understanding,  collaboration and creativity. One of Kahane’s greatest insights in the book is the recognition of the power  of “pattern interrupting practices…of non-working periods” as highly creative and productive moments.  This book reminds us that the “future cannot be calculated or controlled, yet, it can be investigated and [creatively] influenced." A call for creative action!


Kahane, A. (2012). Transformative scenario planning: Working together to change the future. San
Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

About Eva Teruzzi

Eva has worked in high-tech and service companies, and experienced the challenge of being a professional, a manager and an entrepreneur for almost 30 years. As a result, she has grown a sound understanding of how to make things happen in organizations. 

Today, she is in Product Marketing and Business Development at Fiera Milano, Italy.
Her core competence is change management, which she sees as an overarching competence, necessary for being proficient in almost anything. 
She holds an M.A. in French and English literature and languages, is a certified coach with I.C.F. and is currently  enrolled in the M.Sc. in Creativity at SUNY, Buffalo, NY.


Evan Raymonds said...

Scenario planning focuses on an outlook for the future. It is a method with which organizations can form an idea of possible future scenarios and how these may affect their strategic objectives. Using these scenarios, an organization will be able to make better decisions when problems or changes occur. Scenario Planning Templates is a helpful method to assist your strategic planning and product or service development processes.

Amy David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy David said...

This is also called scenario thinking or scenario analysis, is a strategic planning method that some organizations use to make flexible long-term plans. It is in large part an adaptation and generalization of classic methods used by military intelligence
scenario planning