Monday, 4 August 2014

“On Being Top” v “Being on Top”


A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of chairing a conference that considered whether London’s economy would continue to benefit just the lucky few, or whether it could be managed so that everyone could join in.

One speaker, to whom I was a little mean and who must therefore remain anonymous, spoke with considerable conviction to impress upon us how important it was that London (that peculiar and personified entity of which we so easily speak) should strive to remain ‘number one’ in the ranking of world cities.

Another speaker – the rather wonderful (and hence here identified) Sue Terpilowski – challenged this notion, suggesting that if we chose to be ‘seventh’ (interestingly, the world’s favourite number) then that would be fine.

Given the crowded agenda there was little time for anything more than a ripple of response from the audience, the main tenor of which was that, if London tries to compete with Beijing, then we’ll end up living somewhere just like – well, like Beijing.

I found myself pinged forward a couple of decades into a scene from an unwritten Philip K Dick novel set in New Beijing, where the elite live in gleaming fortresses that tower above the grime and poverty at street level; before pinging back again to the scenes from Blade Runner that are now available from a wide variety of streets in and around Southwark, should one choose to glance up at the preparatory monstrosity called The Shard.

(I have to confess to having form on this ridiculous and domineering manifestation of male insecurity, having used it as an illustration of just how appalling everything could be in 50 years’ time in my contribution to the London 2062 book published recently by UCL.  Only now, however, do I understand that it is merely an early phase of the development of New Beijing…)

Anyway, to get back to the point – which is (ahem) what is it that drives such behaviour?  Why do we – singly, collectively – want to be ‘top’?

At the level of individuals, it’s easy (and good fun) to be cruel, given just how much ‘achievement’ seems to be the obsession of men (sic) who are over-endowed with ego and under-endowed elsewhere.  Oh the joy I had with my sons when they were young, on seeing a gleaming sports car/yacht/tall-building-shaped-like-a-spiky-thing, to explain that the men involved were just compensating because they had tiny willies.  I was even able to support my explanation (though by this time the boys would be gleefully running around pointing and shouting ‘Tiny willy!’ at prosperous-looking strangers) with reference to the work of the social psychologist Dr Geoffrey Miller, who predicted, for the New Scientist’s 50th anniversary special, that by the middle of the century:

Darwinian critiques of consumer capitalism should undermine the social and sexual appeal of conspicuous consumption.  Absurdly wasteful display will become less popular once people comprehend its origins in sexual selection, and its pathetic unreliability as a signal of individual merit or value.

(My version of this prediction is that, by roughly the same time, DSM, the bible of American psychology and psychiatry, will have continued its relentless expansion to include 'the belief that you should be in charge' as a disorder meriting medical treatment.)

More generally, though, the stunning work of the American economist Robert Frank, most notably in ‘Choosing the Right Pond’, reveals the ubiquity of the quest for status: even if you don’t own a Ferrari or feel the need to build priapic testaments to your anxiety, you still want to feel valued, important, and preferably more valued and important than someone else.  The search for the right pond, Frank explains, is the search for an environment where the terms of competition suit you.  Status may be measured in citations (if you’re an academic) or points (if you play sport) or money (if you work in the City) or your holiday destination (if you’re just jockeying for position among the other mums and dads, fellow choristers or free-divers).  You just need to find the company and the metric that give you your hit of status.

But where does that need come from?

I remember many years ago encountering some research, the details of which I can no longer find even on the interweb (perhaps the algorithms are punishing me), commissioned by the then Department for Trade and Industry.  They were responsible at the time (and probably still are) for providing an ‘advice service’ to the nation’s small and medium sized enterprises, the intention being to foster the kind of innovation and dynamism and growth and stuff that is absolutely essential if ‘we’ are to, er, remain top.

Leaving aside the fact that the overwhelming majority of small business owners would rather eat their own offspring than seek help from government, it became clear to the relevant authorities that a distressingly large proportion of the businesses that either sought advice or might conceivably seek advice were not, in fact, particularly interested in innovation or dynamism or even growth, they were interested instead in not having a boss and in having control over their lifestyle.

So the research question became: what are the characteristics of the ‘growth-oriented entrepreneur’ and how could you spot one?  If you could spot one, you could target the service more precisely and boost its ‘effectiveness’  and so forth.

And the researchers dug away and I can no longer remember exactly what they did and how many interviews they conducted and all that jazz, all I can remember is that they’d done the job properly and I went to the trouble of actually reading what they’d found out and it turned out they’d discovered something amazing and wonderful:

One of the key determinants of whether or not an entrepreneur wanted to establish a business that would keep getting bigger and bigger was the relationship the individual had had with their father

Roughly speaking, and in extremis, if the father had died while the child was young, the individual was dramatically more likely than otherwise to want to build a growth-oriented business.  As adults, we still seek the affectionate affirmation of our parents and, if we are lucky, we can show them the things we’ve done and they can pat us on the head and tell us how clever and wonderful we are.  If we are unlucky, they are gone, and no matter how big you make it, no matter how fabulous or impressive it is, the idealised and absent daddy who disappeared at such a formative stage cannot put you at your ease.  There is nothing else to do but keep going: achieve bigger, shinier, more impressive.

Here, suddenly, the quest for ‘status’ is simply the quest for love and affection, for the retrieval of irretrievable sensations of infancy and childhood, for the comfort of the pre-conscious home. The desire to achieve, the urge to be top, is us searching for love.  The more elusive it is, the more driven the search, the greater the desire to be top.

By contrast, when people are making love, they very often take it in turns to be on top.


So maybe the challenge of moving from the competition of trying to be top, to the collaboration of taking it in turns to be on top, is analogous to the maturation of love from the parent/child dependency to the partner/partner equality.  And maybe, to go further, and to consider the matter at a collective level, to move on from the zero-sum game of competitive capitalism, we just need to get more collaborative and grow up a bit.



Monday, 28 July 2014

If we score five goals, will we win?


In a set piece speech a couple of weeks ago, the leader of one of our major political parties set out five goals that would characterise his party’s economic policy should they win the next election:

·         restore trust in Britain’s institutions
·         create a skilled workforce
·         an industrial policy for good private sector jobs in every region
·         tackle the culture of short-termism
·         reform financial markets

I have three remarks.

First remark

More of a quiz question actually.  Can you guess which leader uttered these gems?

What does it tell us, even if you already know the answer[1], that it really could have been any of them?

Second remark

I can’t remember where I first heard or read it, but somewhere along the line I learned that a useful test of the meaning of a marketing claim was to consider its negation.  If the negation is clearly ridiculous, then the claim itself is probably vacuous.  Let’s take a look:

“Our future economic policies will be:

·         to develop untrustworthy institutions
·         to reduce the skills and capabilities of the British workforce
·         to foster meaningless work everywhere except London
·         to discourage long term thinking and planning
·         to reduce regulation of financial markets and allow them to do whatever they want”

Which is by way of saying: these goals are meaningless.  They are bland truisms uttered in an attempt to defuse an imagined resistance that serve only to confirm the validity of public indifference.

Third remark

In any case, what are these goals actually for?  Why would we want them?  What would they give us?

The probable answer would be something like “to deliver an efficient and competitive economy” or “to support the economic growth that will enable us to fund vital public services” or “to put the country on a sustainable economic footing” or somesuch.

To which my response is, firstly:-  see my Second Remark, above.

Secondly, and more substantively – how about setting out (in simple terms, nothing too complex or technical) what it is you’re aiming for, what sort of outcome or world you want to head towards; and then set out five goals that manifestly help to get there.

As in:

We would like an economy that enables all of our citizens to flourish and feel valued; in which ‘wealth’ is both more broadly defined and more evenly distributed; that makes a positive contribution to the development of a just and peaceful world; and that functions in a manner that is consistent with the realities of living on a single, finite planet

A bit softy liberal eco-utopian, maybe, but you get the gist: and, from that, we get:-

·         We shall prioritise investment, and encourage investment, in health and related sectors that contribute to well-being

·         We shall develop and introduce a range of incentives to encourage the growth of low-environmental impact sectors, and to encourage other sectors to move rapidly towards peaceful activity that is consistent with living on a single finite planet

·         We shall reform corporate law so as to oblige commercial organisations to pursue broader goals of responsibility for, and care towards, the citizens and locations with which they engage

·         We shall re-orient income-side taxes so as to raise the value (and thus income) of work that involves providing direct care for others, and to restrict the earnings available from speculative and/or casino-style financial activities

·         We shall reform the consumption-side tax system so as to encourage demand for goods and services that are demonstrably sustainable and/or healthy, with a view to facilitating a national debate about a longer term strategy to free us from the debt-based, anxiety-inducing, divisive and unsustainable strictures of ‘consumerism’

There we go; five goals, with a point.

A flight of pure fancy, obviously, with absolutely no chance of having traction anywhere ‘serious’. 

But that’s not the same as being ‘wrong’.



Sunday, 18 May 2014

Remembrance of things to come

I

Once I knew the weighty tug
and aching back
of vegetables pulled from crumbled soil

Now
I know that the contents of
the plastic bag
are washed and ready for use


II

Once I knew the warmth
and comfort
of a cardigan knitted softly
by the tender hands
of a mother

Now
I know that
the embossed signature on my breast
will be held in higher regard
than the name that seemed so significant
last year


III

Once I knew the fabric of belonging
that ran through and around
the patched
                cleaned
                polished
                woodworm-free
                at-least-two-of-the-legs-are-not-original
sofa

Now
I know that I can order a new one
twenty four hours a day
three hundred and sixty five days a year
and that
when they deliver it
they will take away the old one


IV

Once I knew the dutiful joys and pains
of caring for my elderly father
       for your broken daughter
       for his baby son
       for her dying mother

Now
I know the address
of the residential facility
where we store the more troublesome members of our families


V

Once
I knew how to be

Now
I know how to buy




Tuesday, 29 April 2014

What did you do in the climate wars, mummy?

Recession is over! We’re back in the black!
The business is booming and growth is on track;
the cash that we lost on the house has come back –
it’s time to go shopping again!

That digital gizmo that turns its own pages!
Those fabulous shoes that you’ve wanted for ages –
there’s a million and one things to do with your wages!
We’ve got to go shopping again.

All that nonsense with second-hand stuff is behind us
and repairing equipment? – dear god, don’t remind us.
We’re free to come clean, our consumption defines us:
we have to go shopping again.

So please don’t go on about ‘finite resources’
or working conditions or dry water courses:
I’m simply a victim of much greater forces –
I’d better go shopping again.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Executive Summary - High Speed Sheep and Irradiated Trains

Sometimes it is hard to stay on track...


As part of its new Sustainable Husbandry and Integrated Transport Technology programme, the government recently began consultation on its intention[1] to build a new railway line for the purposes of transporting transgenic irradiated sheep from their grazing lands in the north to the nation’s dining tables, in the south.

InnoThink consultants were commissioned by the Department of Innovation, Change and Engagement to consult with a randomly selected[2] sample of the population so as to gauge public perceptions of the proposal and to find ways to ensure those perceptions could be shown to be misguided.

The consultation process involved: a series of discussion groups held around the country with consumers aged between 18 and 50; in-depth interviews with a range of stakeholders; a meeting with a scientist; a meeting with a non-scientist; and innovative ethnographic research with some sheep.  This report presents the main findings from the consultation process.

First and foremost, the consultation revealed that the general public are shit scared of irradiated transgenic sheep[3]

Secondly, the thought of having sundry towns, gardens, hills, woodlands, rare species, livelihoods and irreplaceable views casually destroyed by the construction of a gigantic railway simply so that some sheep can get from Birmingham to London a bit more quickly fills the overwhelming majority of the public with incandescent rage.

Thirdly, the consultation established that although the rage and fear will enable the great British public to complain bitterly throughout the media coverage of the construction period, these emotions will rapidly evolve via a state of sullen tolerance into one of blissful ignorance.  The public will express dulled surprise when asked in future consultations how they feel about eating irradiated transgenic sheep.

Fourthly, the sheep are fine. Really.  Relaxed, well fed, surprisingly articulate when they get onto one of their preferred subjects.

Fifth, the scientist clean bowled the non-scientist with a beautiful yorker, swinging in late and taking out middle and off.

In light of the findings, we recommend re-branding the scheme as Horse Show: The Sequel, or HS2 for short, and using the tactics of ‘Just Pretend’ that InnoThink set out in its previous research for the Department on ‘The Roll of Luck in Policy Formulation: How to Convincingly Claim Credit When Good Things Happen and How to Avoid Flying Shit’.





[1] ‘Intention’ should be taken in this context to mean ‘decision’
[2] Recruitment of members of the general public was conducted on the basis of the Department’s new guidance; and the DICE sequence was 1,4,6,3,3,4,2,5,4,3,1,1,1,4,6,3,4,5,2.  See technical appendix for details.
[3] Reactions to alternatives – i.e. transgenic irradiated sheep – produced no discernible differences in response.

Beyond consumerism - a design challenge

What follows is an attempt to capture my presentation to the Schumacher Institute’s ‘Alternatives to Austerity’ conference, 21 November 2013.

It is scheduled to be published as part of an Ebook, a link to which will appear here in due course.


Introduction
It is forty years since the publication of ‘Small is Beautiful’.  I first read it just a few years after that, in 1980, when I was fifteen. I had no idea at the time that it was still relatively new; nor did I have any sense of its position in the firmament of all that has been written about sustainability.  And I certainly had no idea that I would one day be an economist spending his time concerned with sustainability.

I say economist.  It would perhaps be more accurate to describe me as a ‘recovering economist’.  I certainly received a long and formal education in economics; and for some years I was employed in a role that entailed the day-to-day use of orthodox macroeconomics; and I founded Brook Lyndhurst in 1999 in large part to try to bring to bear the disciplines of economics on the manifold challenges presented by sustainability.

It’s true, too, as my teenage children sometimes wearily point out, that I’ve been thinking about some feature of what we call ‘economics’ pretty much every day for more than thirty years. 

This in itself might be a good justification for the need to recover.  But I’m referring, of course, to the state in which economics as a discipline finds itself: a discipline with exalted status in the world’s financial and governance infrastructure, yet whose basic tenets are increasingly exposed as deeply flawed and whose role in the most severe economic recession of the twentieth century is widely acknowledged.

It is with this in mind that I offer what follows.  It seems to me that our current travails – severe and persistent environmental degradation; shocking and enduring injustice and inequality; widespread stress, distress and mental ill-health – have their common root in the way in which our economy functions.  And the structure and functioning of our economy, and the character and focus of economics, have co-evolved for more than two centuries (most especially in the late nineteenth century, when economics successfully repositioned itself as the social science analogue of Newtonian physics) to bring us to this deeply uncomfortable pass.  Mere tampering is not enough.  A truly profound reformulation is required.

Schumacher believed this too, of course.  One of the questions raised by the Institute in preparing for this conference was: why has Schumacher’s work not had the impact of, say, a Keynes or a Marx or a Friedman?  In passing I suggest that, whilst the human centeredness and ethical passion of his arguments remain powerful and inspiring, he does not – in ‘Small is Beautiful’, at least – present an explanatory account of how an economy works; which in turn makes it difficult to build a proposition for a coherent set of policies or strategies.

I cannot claim that this paper presents an ‘explanatory account’ of course.  It is a personal statement, drawing upon a mix of formal work undertaken by others, various research projects I’ve had the opportunity to conduct in recent years, and interwoven reflections I’ve explored through a variety of speeches and articles.  It is concerned with the ‘demand side’ of the economy.  There has been much attention in recent years upon the supply side – the ‘circular economy’ is the latest manifestation – but I am firmly convinced that unless and until we tackle the demand side – what it is that we want – we are not really engaging with the problem.

I want to touch on four things:

·         the process of change – and what this might tell us about where we are and what needs to happen next;

·         a design challenge – to suggest that we need to ask: “What is an economy for?” and to design it accordingly;

·         the demand side – to give a flavour of what might happen with some initial demand-side design principles;

·         preliminary propositions – some suggestions for actions at key leverage points that have the potential to accelerate the process of change.

As this last mentioned implies, I approach the entire phenomenon from a systems perspective: indeed I conceptualise the economy as a complex, open, adaptive, path-dependent system.  Space prevents a full exposition of the implications of this approach; but I have included potentially useful references in the bibliographical endnote.

The Process of Change
At any given time a complex socio-economic system has a mix of extant, co-evolved institutions and structures that explain and comprise the system’s behaviour.  The ceaseless pressures of change, emanating from the agency that exists at all levels – from individual citizens to global governance – perpetually act upon the system’s structures.

Thomas Kuhn’s notion of a ‘paradigm’ describes that set of interdependent rules and structures that prevails at any given time.  He proposes that pressures upon a given paradigm can build for some while before a ‘tipping point’ is reached; whereupon rapid change can ensue.

Examination of the logarithmic curve that typically characterises such processes of change reveals the crucial importance of the ‘tipping point’ or the ‘take off’ zone, the phase of change beyond which self-perpetuating processes do the work.  This is where the key leverage points are to be found.  Many transformations never occur because, for one reason or another, they stutter in this crucial zone.  And many analyses of these processes neglect to attend to the fact that the ‘pre-take off’ zone - in which hopes are perpetually raised and then dashed - can persist for a very long time.

Such persistent non-take off occurs in many cases because a system transition implies profound loss for those that benefit most from the existing paradigm; and prospective losers resist the change.  In the case of the western economies in the early twenty first century, the prospective losers hold an interlocking set of positions throughout commerce, government and academe, and have great power.  Their ability to resist change is formidable. 

But the pressure for change is irresistible; each grain of sand builds upon those that came before.  We cannot know precisely when the avalanche will occur.  But we can be certain that it will.

A Design Challenge
The economy is widely treated as a disembodied phenomenon.  It is described using metaphors from the natural world: there are earthquakes and storms, whirlwinds and tides.  An economy is ‘returning to health’ when we espy ‘green shoots’. 

Such language helps us to conceptualise the economy as some sort of inevitable force in the world and to forget that it is, in fact, an entirely human construct.  It is us.  We make it.  Yes, of course, it is a complex system so it has ‘emergent properties’ that are distinct from the individual choices we in our billions make.  But it is, unavoidably, a human construct and, as such, is subject to human agency.

Most human constructs are designed; and there seems no reason not to ask something similar of an economy.  Rather than restrict ourselves to the questions “What is it?” and “How does it work?” let us ask: “What would we like it to do?”

In surveys, when asked what they consider most important, citizens most frequently cite “health” and “spending time with friends and family”.  If we were to take the latter as a design principle for an economy, what would it look like?  And how could we make it do that? 

The focus here is on the economy, not economics.  Deciding upon the design criteria is a socio-political project; the engineering is the domain of economics.  At the moment it’s the other way around.

The Demand Side
In ‘Small is Beautiful’ Schumacher discusses education, land, industry, nuclear power and intermediate technology – and all from the supply side!  His demand side remarks, though deep, are confined to the requirement that humanity needs a spiritual transformation, a revolution in consciousness, if the economy he envisages is to come about.

Whether or not this is the case, there would seem to be insufficient time available: the environmental limits to continuing along our present path are already becoming manifest and we may have less than a century before the problems become acute and irreversible.  Three centuries on from the Enlightenment, it is hard to imagine the kind of transformation Schumacher implies taking place so swiftly.

In the quest for a more practical and optimistic position, we might usefully consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and start with some basics. 

Thinking about food, for example, we have to acknowledge the enormous complexity of the world’s food systems, and the ways in which the diets and preferences of the majority of consumers have been and continue to be manipulated by profit-oriented corporations.  We should acknowledge too, however, the potential power of insights such as that from Michael Pollan, who managed to condense into just seven words an entire ethos of health and sustainable living: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.” What might achieved by the indefatigable promulgation of this simple entreaty? 

And, thinking about housing, consider the following[1]:



Here we have a graphical image of the various functions performed with respect to Maslow’s notion of ‘shelter’.  It is immediately clear that a ‘home’ is a great deal more than just ‘shelter’.  But how many of these functions – these needs, these wants, these demands – can only be met by a ‘house’?  If, wearing our design hats, we think about how we might best meet these (perfectly legitimate) wishes, we might well come up with not just a different but a better solution than the bubble-dependent system that we have at present.

This is only a sketch, of course, but it points to the underlying argument: if we adopt a design perspective to the demand side, we may find very different solutions to the answers by which we are presently surrounded.  And if we don’t even try, then we shall have to endure the spinning froth of ‘resource efficiency’ until it’s simply too late.

Preliminary Propositions
By way of illustration, and without by any means having the space properly to link the preceding case to the subsequent propositions, here are four suggestions for action at key leverage points in four different levels of the ‘take off’ zone, all of them feasible in the short and medium term:

·         Individual – Cook food, and eat in company.  We can re-connect farm to fork and re-build conviviality.

·         Civic – De-monetise elder care.  What we want when we’re elderly is not the freedom to choose between different annuities; we want to know that someone will look after us.  Let’s start trading in units of care: it’ll siphon money from the financial system and will give us what we really want.

·         Societal – Change the frame.  Speak of collaboration not competition; argue for enough instead of more; challenge conspicuous consumption; express sympathy for those whose self-esteem is so low they need to buy preposterous yachts and sports cars.

·         Governmental – Smart taxation.  Use modern technology to re-calibrate consumption taxes on a continuous basis, with high and higher VAT on unsustainable goods and services, and low – even negative – VAT on sustainable goods and services.

In the longer term, as I have suggested, we need – I believe – a comprehensive re-think of what we want from an economy; and to do that requires something far more sophisticated than the medium of a general election.  For such a purpose, I propose nothing less than a Royal Commission on the Economy.  We could of course wait for the avalanche; but it would seem prudent to move more quickly if we possibly can.


Bibliographical endnote
Selected sources of particular relevance are:

“The structure of scientific revolutions”, T Kuhn (1962)
“Metaphors we live by”, Lakoff and Johnson (1980)
“Choosing the right pond”, R Frank (1987)
“On kissing, tickling and being bored”, A Phillips (1994)
“The diffusion of innovations”, E Rogers (1996)
“Strategies of commitment”, T Schelling (2007)
“The diffusion of environmental behaviours: The role of influential individuals in social networks”, D Fell et al (2008)
“In defence of food”, M Pollan (2009)
“On being a good grain of sand”, D Fell (online, 2013)
“New Paradigm Economics versus Old Paradigm Economics”, E Fullbrook (online, 2013)
“Food and Sustainability: Consumer psychology - a tool for policy making?” C Moschaki (unpublished)











[1] © D Fell, produced using the online tool Wordle

Monday, 3 February 2014

Square birthday - part three


Some weeks ago I was invited to participate in a strategic planning exercise by and with the International Water Association.  (My good friend Inge Wallage is their new Communications and Engagement Director.)

Unable to forge the two and a half days required last week to participate in corporeal form, as well as travel to and from The Hague (I have been a bit too busy of late to maintain my time forge in full working order) I offered instead to contribute by means of a presentation delivered through the medium of Skype.

There's a first time for everything.

I'd been asked to offer any lessons I might have learned from previous experiences of scenario planning (or horizon scanning, or forecasting, or future thinging, or whatever) and I began (for my own benefit really) by reviewing that previous experience.  The highlights looked like this:

1990   Towards 2020 (reviewing long term social trends)

1993 High speed link (exploring what an economy built from scratch might look like in NW Kent)

1997 Towards the sustainable consumer (a failed attempt at a multi-client study)

2000 What about the Euro? (deliberative exercise with London business decision makers)

2001 Ageing society (mixing demographics and the views of 'tomorrow's older people')

2002 Liveable cities (pan-European work bringing social research into spatial planning)

2003 Low carbon cities (stylised ultra-low carbon scenarios for UK cities)

2005   Lifestyle scenarios (how possible future lifestyles will influence waste volumes and composition)

2009 Food system scenarios (system modelling focusing on agent reactions to different trajectories)

2011   Waste sector scenarios (mixed qual and quant tools to look for key leverage points)

As well as making me feel old (it's nearly 2020 already) I felt that this actually looked like a reasonable (albeit non-aligned, meandering and heterodox) body of work from which to draw some general lessons, so I had a go.  Naturally, I distilled eleven; and I used Italo Calvino for structural inspiration:


1. Clarity
Be as clear as you possibly can about what you are trying to achieve.  In general, scenario planning is not actually about the scenarios; they are simply tools for improving your analysis and your planning.  It is very easy to get lost, or carried away, and to discover in a workshop in a year from now that there are only three of you left and you are all confused.

2. Gentleness
It's not easy.  Be gentle with yourselves, and with your colleagues.  Try not to get frustrated if it seems slow, or worried if it seems messy.

3. Time
It takes time.  It's difficult to say how much.  ("When should you pick the cherries?" I asked my father.  "The day before the birds eat them" he sagely intoned.)  But don't think you can hurry this kind of stuff.

4. Engagement
If you are going to think as a group, you must attend to how you keep everyone interested and engaged.  Easy (and perhaps obvious) to say; but too often I've seen people with important things to offer get left behind through simple lack of forethought by others.

5. Testing
If it goes well, you will emerge with some findings, or some insights or some pictures or whatever.  Make sure you test them on or with someone who has not been involved.  This is important: it may seem very sensible to you and your colleagues, but that's because you've been working on it since that great meeting a couple of years ago and you know all about the insides and the history.  I test things with my mum.  If it makes no sense to her, then there is a high chance it is indeed nonsense. 

6. Vulnerability
Allow yourselves to make mistakes.  Be respectful of others making mistakes.  Don't worry about blind alleys or diversions.  It's all about the process: how do you, as a group, explore and learn so that you can, together, make the world a better place.  If it was easy we'd have done it by now.

7. Depth
Go deep, but no further.  Remember to keep an eye on what you are trying to achieve.  If you can no longer see daylight, you've probably gone too far.

8. Simplicity
"Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler." Einstein, apparently.  And he's clearly right.  If you can't explain what you've been up to in all those scenario planning workshops in less than 30 seconds, you're in trouble and so is your scenario planning exercise.

9. Scariness
Big thinking is scary.  Trying to save the world is scary.  Making stupid errors in front of colleagues you're trying to impress is scary.  And so on.  Scenario planning should be scary.  If you're not slightly anxious at a minimum, you're not doing it right.  (You should be having fun, too, of course.)

10. Fitness
This is a Darwinian thing. You may think that the best way to do something is for it to be the best.  The best scenario planning exercise.  But this is not true.  To be effective, it needs to be the fittest, the most well adapted, the one most likely to flourish in this particular environment.  I have seen fabulous initiatives fail not because they are anything less than brilliant, but because the world around them doesn't get it.  And I have seen quite mediocre initiatives achieve remarkable things simply because they were the right shape in the right place at the right time.  So make sure you think very hard about not just what you are trying to achieve, but the operating environment into which your work will be fledged.


11. Influence
In almost all cases a scenario planing exercise will have the intention of influencing one or more people, one or more organisations, one or more institutions.  Think very hard indeed about this, particularly in terms of how you present and represent and describe and explain your work.  Think hard, too, about precisely who you can really influence, and how they line up with the leverage points in the system as a whole.  Tactics may matter as much as strategy.


Or something like that...

Good luck on your mission.