How Divergent Future Scenarios Help Brands Endure Covid-19

22 Apr 2020
How Divergent Future Scenarios Help Brands Endure Covid-19

There’s no crystal ball for how the global pandemic will play out, but with foresight and preparedness for multiple divergent future scenarios, businesses can find their footing and prime for what’s next.

When I was a teenager, I went deep-sea fishing. In the middle of the vastness, I remember feeling quite small in the scope of things, vulnerable with no shore in sight. The waves out there were huge and, even on a clear day, they tossed the boat like a toy. Soon, I began feeling nauseous, wobbly and overwhelmed by my surroundings—the hot sun, the acrid smell of sea air, the endless rocking back and forth. Everything around me started to heighten my sickness. As I turned green, my friend said to me, “Look to the horizon. You need to look up and focus on the horizon if you want to get better. When you look there, your body will be able to tell the difference between its own motion and the forced motion of the ship.”

This small memory—tossing back and forth in that tiny boat amidst unforgiving waves—reminds me of the feeling so many of us have right now. But it’s important to discern between the uncertainty of this moment in time, and the possibilities beyond our purview.

Finding equilibrium requires looking to the horizon to distinguish between today’s chaos & tomorrow’s possibilities.

In the midst of today’s tumult caused by Covid-19, it’s natural to feel intimidated by the forces bigger than us—that fear of going overboard—but we need to look at the horizon. It isn’t easy, but finding a sense of equilibrium is essential to navigate the Covid-19 crisis of today, tomorrow and the long-term future. At LPK, we’ve long believed in the power of emergent trends and foresight to do this.

Smaller Timeframes, Bigger Uncertainties

The degree of uncertainty that accompanies this pandemic has reframed how businesses plan—and it’s reframed how we at LPK are using some of our own foresight methodologies. Typically, we use a different set of tools when we look 10-plus years into the future, due to the uncertainty and ambiguity posed by that length of timeframe. But now, we have that same level of uncertainty—and just as many potential disruptors—in the immediate future. We believe that using scenario planning as a strategic tool is now relevant for, say, one to two years into the future—something we call Rapid Future-Scaping. With this methodology, businesses can look at divergent possible futures, then create strategies that allow for planning against multiple potential tomorrows.

During Covid-19, success (near- or long-term) is about anticipation. Success is about lifting our heads to look up and out at the future scenarios we may face. And this success starts with three navigational mindsets.

3 Ways to Navigate the Crisis & Prime for the Future

1. Reframe Your Immediate Context
First, recognize how the world has changed. Spencer Johnson, author of Who Moved My Cheese, says, “What you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.”

It’s natural for us as human beings to struggle with recognizing discontinuous change. It can be paralyzing. But facing the change head-on is crucial. Now is the time to get our bearings so that we can understand the immediate and most pressing challenges of the pandemic.

Shifts in sentiment and forced behavior change have shaped the “next normal.” Face masks and social distancing are physical reminders of the precariousness of daily life. Businesses are facing new staffing, technological and business challenges. With much of our workforce working remotely, furloughed or without a job, businesses are scrambling to keep the employees still on staff productive, while meeting the demands of a radically different business landscape. Many are learning new technologies for virtual meetings in real time. Accepting what has changed—temporarily or otherwise—can help you make peace and start strategizing for the new reality.

2. Reimagine Your Post-Corona Identity
As the saying goes, “The one constant in our lives is change.” Yet, we seem to be hardwired against comprehending it. As human beings, “unimaginable change” is the result of our own failure of imagination. Despite an event’s probability of occurring—like Covid-19, a global pandemic likely to hit once every century—we can’t entertain the idea of it happening.

This is about planning for discontinuous future scenarios—new consumers, competitors, markets—that present wholly new business challenges.

End-of-History Illusion is a psychological deception in which we underestimate the degree of change we’ll experience in the future. This requires reinvention of ourselves and our businesses for future states that are radically different from the ones we previously imagined. This is about planning for discontinuous future scenarios—new consumers, competitors, markets—that present wholly new business challenges.

3. Ready Yourself for Multiple Outcomes
Harnessing change isn’t about prediction. Rather, it’s about preparedness. In considering future scenarios for this coronavirus, we must consider societal, technological, economic, environmental and political factors, which can collide in any number of powerful ways—altering consumers’ behaviors, reshaping markets, rippling across sectors and transforming our businesses.

The objective is to prepare ourselves for multiple futures, knowing we’ll likely be faced with one of them.

Anticipation & Readiness: the New Business Imperatives

At a time when the world’s leading experts in areas from epidemiology to economics can’t predict whether this will be a blip, a long haul, a game of whack-a-mole or a completely new way of living, scenario planning facilitates preparedness, enabling a more agile response once it becomes clear which outcome is unfolding. We need to move into divergent modes of thinking that allow us to imagine multiple, distinctively different outcomes, inspiring a set of real and impactful strategies that preserve your business’s fidelity, relevance and growth in the volatile near-term. The objective is to prepare ourselves for all of them, knowing we’ll likely be faced with one of them.

At this time, when businesses’ most critical planning must be focused on the next 24 months, it’s valuable to adapt long-term foresight processes to the short-term, putting them to work in agile new formats for dynamic times like these. By developing a divergent set of future scenarios, businesses can begin strategizing how they might behave in that world. This exercise enables brands to navigate near-term uncertainty, as well as look to the horizon for long-term recovery and growth.

Want to discuss divergent future scenarios and how they impact your business in the era of Covid-19? Visit our Covid-19 Response Hub, or reach out to Bryan via email.

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