The term 'scenario' - in the popular lexicon - is often taken to mean up/down numerical variance in the final outcome of an existing plan or forecast, e.g., 'worst case', 'most likely' or 'best case'. A quarterly-results-driven business culture is fertile ground for this kind of facile thinking, with spreadsheets a major accelerant. (When I first figured out the 'Goal Seek' function in Excel, it felt like learning how to fire a gun: powerful, exciting - and dangerous.) But the dictionary definition of 'scenario' is somewhat different:
"An outline of the plot of a dramatic or literary work [or] screenplay. An outline or model of an expected or supposed sequence of events."
What's lost is the art of coherent story-making to envision, construct and prepare for truly orthogonal futures, and the systems thinking to act on contingencies as probabilities shift. Successful executives think this way unconsciously. Groups of executives seldom do it well together. In between the narrow and expansive varieties has blossomed a new cottage industry in 'scenarios' for business continuity planning, including this cryptic mention of their use in preparing for flu season. Regular readers should make connections with our earlier post on flu prediction markets. I'd be interested in others' thoughts on that.