Learnings from the long view

| Tags: Business

I read The Art of the Long View in 1991 shortly before meeting Peter Schwartz for the first time. The book introduced me to the discipline of Scenario Planning and Peter introduced me to the power of thinking long term and at huge scale. At the heart of his teaching is that thinking strategically is about being prepared for the future not predicting it. The theory has it that there are “driving forces” that only slowly change so that you can pretty much rely on them and think of them as dependable facts. Demographic change is one such driving force. Then there are “Critical Uncertainties” that you need to understand because if they do happen then you must be prepared to alter the course of your business strategy. Scenario Planning demands an integrated multidisciplinary approach to inquiry and debate. Only by stretching your mind and seeing the world through the eyes and minds of others who do not think the way you think can you truly think strategically. After all, the factors affecting any business in any place or at any scale are, at best, complex. This simple foundation leads to powerful generative thinking and, for me at least, some of the most enjoyable work I have done. Not only do you refresh your own way of seeing the world but you meet brilliant minds unlike your own who teach and inspire you.

The Art of the Long View remains on my bookshelf and I have given it away many times as the text to read if you are at all serious about thinking strategically.  I have had many experiences where strategic thinking has been misrepresented as only the rational side of creative decision making or, in advertising and marketing, as a brief for a campaign. Or maybe solving a problem right now. I believe in a strategic discipline that is about outcomes and the the long term, something quite different.

In Peter’s analysis there is no official future so when the course is set the navigator, strategist, needs to be aware of what is going on in the world and be prepared to take the risk of having an opinion in an organization committed to good decision making. Both Wieden + Kennedy and Apple, my two principal workplaces, were those kind of organizations.

So, Scenario Planning is a great tool for strategists who are helping organizations make effective decisions. Of course, theory is, well, theory and practice makes perfect (as my Mum would say). Over two decades later Peter has written a sequel to The Art of the Long View, a short and illuminating book called Learnings from the Long View. In it he assesses failure and success and offers up scenarios for 2025.

He starts the section on driving forces by reminding us that in 1991 he wrote:

“…what will be the interplay between this new global adolescent community and the evolution of the new electronic media?”

Schwartz, Peter (2011-11-30). Learnings from the Long View (Kindle Location 578).  . Kindle Edition.

I remember this as a critical observation back in 1991. The coming generation, the one that now defines the world, would be themselves defined by their adoption of technology. Well, here we are in 2012 and that force is still driving the world. In 1991 Peter wrote:

“The global teenager will want to communicate this way, and using these kinds of new media tends to change people’s behavior and values.”

Schwartz, Peter (2011-11-30). Learnings from the Long View (Kindle Locations 580-581).  . Kindle Edition.

The essence of this observation is still with us and we are living through it on a daily basis. The values that define individual behavior all over the world are rapidly changing. This is a huge and not at all organized movement. Some of it was evidenced in Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest and much is also documented by Professor Ronald Inglehart at The World Values Survey. There seems to be a choice facing everyone, a choice between the social values of the past, the opportunities of the present and the social values that could be in the future. Traditionalists, such as religious fundamentalists, go to the past. Progressives tend to look to the future. Cultural values revolving around power and control, often manifest as the moralization of issues such as gender roles and homosexuality, are often the battleground of politics and identity. This is amplified in many parts of the world as indigenous people throw off the imperial stamp and reorganize around their own identities and histories. On the one hand Peter sees a “rise in religion” on the other hand religion only rises where poverty endures. If the global economy reduces poverty and elevates “500 million Chinese” then another scenario is the end of religious fundamentalism and the rise of secular values of tolerance and diversity.

“For the last four centuries, white men have dominated the world. European colonialism was followed by America’s military and economic dominance of the planet, and both Europe and the U.S. were predominately and culturally white. That world is vanishing fast, and it will continue to vanish.”

Schwartz, Peter (2011-11-30). Learnings from the Long View (Kindle Locations 774-776). . Kindle Edition.

Peter’s fresh view of the future  focuses on systemic crises in a complex and interconnected global economy. He offers three scenarios ranging from the glum to the euphoric, a Crisis of Crises to Long Boom 2 (Some readers may recall Peter also co-authored a self described optimistic view of the future in the nineties called The Long Boom). In these scenarios he advances beyond the scenarios of 1991 to look at the extraordinary uncertainties of the near future. Once again he does a wonderful job of offering three alternative views that get your mind working.

Studioriley is deeply engaged in the cultural diversity that is the global economy. We do so from a position of optimism about the resolution of many of these conflicts and crises. Reading Learnings from the Long View tempers that optimism with reality and encourages better strategic thinking all round.

I recommend the book. Its $2.99 on Kindle.