Journal Gen X: Scenario Planning for the Journey of Life
Beth Comstock, former Vice-Chair of GE, once shared a post on LinkedIn that talked about how she channels her anxiety into scenario planning. That post really resonated with me, because this is exactly what I have been training myself to do as well.
In business terms, scenario planning is a structured way for organizations to think about the future (thanks to The Economist for that definition). Although there is a defined structure to be followed in scenario planning, it incorporates elements of creativity and collaboration that aren’t typically found in more linear business planning methods. Among other features, the method allows for the posing of ‘what-if’ questions and the development of potential solutions. It involves imagining a good, bad, and ideal situation, and how you would respond. I’ve written before about how I use scenario planning at work, but I’ve also found it useful in other situations.
Applying the Concept
Although this methodology was developed for the work environment, it can also be used in real-life situations. One could argue that non-work problems have higher stakes, because those typically involve family and friends. At work, discomfort can arise when I’m doing something where there is a high-level of uncertainty. That type of activity happens outside of work as well. Take vacation planning, for instance.
Recently, I went on a vacation with my family. Because we were starting on an island, then travelling down the coast of three U.S. states, it was a bit difficult to figure out what to pack. We had to fly to our first destination, so I couldn’t simply throw a bunch of things in the trunk of our car. I had to plan. I’m a planner by nature, so while I relished the planning portion of the trip (lodging, dining, entertainment, etc.), I kept getting caught up on what to wear. Questions like: If I didn’t pack a jacket, will I be too cold and have a horrible time? Was it going to rain, and if so, would I need my rain pants as well as my rain jacket? I had limited space, so it was important to pack wisely. I quickly became buried under these questions one afternoon, until I thought about scenario planning.
Uncertainty exists as a constant, and forward momentum is vital to success. For those of us who have an innate need to try and peek around the corner at the future, scenario planning is helpful.
The good scenario was that the weather would be sunny, mid-seventies, with no rain, and that I would look fantastic in everything (I guess you might also call that the fantasy scenario). The bad scenario was that every day would be cold and rainy and that I wouldn’t have brought the right shoes or jackets. So, we would be stuck inside every day and be miserable (I made the bad scenario especially bad for the fun of it). The ideal scenario was that the weather would be mild, whatever I brought to wear would work in whatever situation I found myself in, and that I would be having so much fun I wouldn’t notice or care.
The actual outcome was a mixture of good and ideal. It was unseasonably dry where we were, so I didn’t need the rain gear I brought. And because we found so many beaches, I didn’t miss out on any hiking as a result of not bringing hiking boots. It was a bit chilly during some portions of the trip, and my clothing didn’t keep me quite as warm as I normally like to be, but I was having so much fun with my family that it didn’t bother me that much.
This may seem like a lot of planning for a two-week vacation, but it helped calm my thoughts. Thinking through the good, the bad, and the ideal was a good exercise.
I firmly believe that life is a journey and not a destination. There is no ‘getting there.’ We simply gain a more progressive understanding of ourselves. The more we can apply skills such as scenario planning to situations that make us uncomfortable, the more time we can spend focusing on the things that really matter.