A Time to Think, A Time to Reason

A lot of my work tends to be based around “What if….?”, which can make for interesting times, but presenting on your “what ifs” is harder as they usually need the context surrounding them explaining as well, and its here that I find I get met with resistance.

The modern business context tends not to give time to thinking, so everything has to be real-time & on the button. People’s natural thinking patterns tend to be very much As-Is, so any “What if?” thinking is put down immediately as academic or blue sky and not given the attention it may deserve. Of course there is a time and place for everything, presenting a business case to an investment commitee is definitely not the place to start presenting possible scenarios, but how many organisations even try to think about the possibilities ahead?

I’m reading The Limits of Strategy by Ernest von Simpson, a review of the major strands of history in the computer industry with reference to the organisational strategy and then what really happened. I have to confess that I originally bought it because it covered pretty much my lifetime in the industry and so it was more for my general reading, but what has surprised me is the consistency with which senior executives work on the basis of “What is now should not change so keep going on current course and speed…”.

It is so easy with hindsight to say that they should have seen what was coming, in reality you don’t have the hindsight until too late. What you can do is take some time to think of alternative futures and end games you’d like to see achieve. Sitting in the bar with the benefit of a refreshing snifter, this could potentially be a pleasant evening’s conversation: “What if Nottingham Forest got into the premier division?”, “What if BA & Iberia were stopped from their joint venture?” etc etc. Easy to do, but how do you structure it and present tangible findings that have value in the working day rather than a boozy conversation.

There is a pretty good white paper posted on the Strategy Kinetics site called New Tools for Resolving Wicked Problems which gives a good briefing in the later parts on Resolution Mapping whereby you formally describe end states (a form of predicted hindsight) & then define events & decisions that would lead you from your current position to that end state. Strategy Kinetics see it as a structured workshop process, but I’ve also used it as a way of providing an executive overview to business scenarios to try and get over the possibilities ahead.

Of course, we’ve still got to get over the dogma that spending time thinking about possibilities is wasted…back to Simpson’s book on that one.

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