Imagining multiple plausible futures

Ask ChatGPT to come up with future scenarios for a specific sector, and there’s a chance you’ll receive some decent results, at least in English. However, this would be selling yourself and your organization short. While it’s possible to have interesting discussions based on scenarios generated with a click of a button, there’s nothing quite like collectively thinking through how the future might unfold and come to be. This is the best way to create a shared language of the future, learn from each other’s perspectives and assumptions, and even gain an understanding of signposts indicating that the world is moving towards a certain scenario (more on this in our later article, “Steering with Scenarios”). Moreover, the creativity sparked by thinking, describing, and visualizing multiple futures will pay off in spades when you move on to the next step in the process: applying the scenarios.

Creating scenarios is not an exact science. It is more of an art, as argued by Arie de Geus, one of the pioneers of scenario thinking at Shell. It requires analytical thinking, but above all, creativity. Good scenario stories explain developments, persuade, inspire, and challenge. They may even make you feel a bit uncomfortable. Their value lies in the meaning they give to events that are difficult to interpret, in addressing uncertainty about the future, rather than in their factual basis or predictive value. When you create multiple scenarios, in hindsight, some will miss the mark while others will hit it. What matters is that the scenarios help you and your organization engage in a meaningful conversation about the future(s), interpret and think through them together, make well-considered, future-proof choices, and take action.

When developing scenarios, there are two steps you need to take. The first is, of course, the content. You will need to create four extreme but plausible and inspiring future stories. The second step is to visualize this content in different forms. Prose is not the form that triggers thinking and action for everyone. Videos/animations, newspaper headlines, diary entries from a day in the future, or infographics can help you make the scenarios more accessible to a broader audience.

If you want to learn more about writing and visualizing scenarios, you can download the article here.

Jeroen Toet is a senior strategist at Jester Jester Foresight. For over 10 years, he has helped organizations in the private and public sector make robust choices for the future using different foresight methods, among which scenario planning.

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