Create Your Company’s Future

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Some months ago, I noticed an interesting trend on the MIT Sloan Management Review website. An article that was more than 20 years old had begun appearing on our list of the 50 most-popular articles on our website in most months. The article was getting almost three times as many views per day as it had been a few years earlier.

What was going on?

The article in question is a classic one by Paul J.H. Schoemaker of the Wharton School titled “Scenario Planning: A Tool for Strategic Thinking.” It’s a well-regarded article — it’s been cited in other works more than 1,600 times since its publication in our winter 1995 issue — and so it can come up in internet search results if managers are looking for information on scenario planning.

We at MIT SMR don’t know for sure why so many more people have taken an interest in this 22-year-old article recently, but here’s my theory. As our world has been becoming more turbulent — think unexpected and momentous events like the U.K.’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States — more and more managers are interested in knowing how to better prepare for an unpredictable future. Some of them wonder if scenario planning could help — and turn to the internet for information on the topic, where they find Schoemaker’s classic MIT SMR article.

That insight helped focus this issue’s special report on creating your company’s future. In “Using Scenario Planning to Reshape Strategy,” Rafael Ramírez, Steve Churchhouse, Alejandra Palermo, and Jonas Hoffmann provide an introduction to an approach to scenario planning developed at the University of Oxford. It’s a scenario planning method designed for organizations facing conditions that are characterized by turbulence, unpredictable uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity — which these days describes lots of businesses. The authors explain how this technique has been used in specific organizations and also offer recommendations about how to apply it in your own.

A key part of preparing your company for the future is innovation, and two articles in our special report address that topic. “How to Catalyze Innovation in Your Organization” is a fascinating article by Michael Arena, Rob Cross, Jonathan Sims, and Mary Uhl-Bien about how to use an understanding of social networks within your organization to increase the chances that new ideas not only develop but also take root and flourish. This article should be required reading for would-be innovators in large organizations — and executives who want to encourage them.

Business model innovation is an important aspect of innovation. In “Building a Winning Business Model Portfolio,” Paolo Aversa, Stefan Haefliger, and Danielle Giuliana Reza offer research-based insights into evaluating your business models as a portfolio. How well do your current business models — and new ones you have planned for the future — fit together?

Finally, in “The Flare and Focus of Successful Futurists,” futurist Amy Webb, who is the author of the recent book The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream (PublicAffairs, 2016), describes techniques to help you — and your company — gain awareness of nascent trends before they catch you by surprise.

And as you prepare your company for the future, it sometimes helps to look to the past. With that in mind, we recommend visiting our website to read a 1995 article that’s become a surprise hit in 2017: Schoemaker’s “Scenario Planning: A Tool for Strategic Thinking.”

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