When people think of scenarios, they often think of stories. Such stories have a specific sequence: this happens, which causes that, which triggers this other thing, which results in the world looking as follows. Most scenarios also tend to be monolithic. That is, singular. Typical scenario 'architecture' is all of a piece - difficult to deconstruct, much less reassemble in new ways. Like traditional conceptions of a published book, a recorded song or a movie, there is a common and complete reference version with a familiar flow. Perhaps there are some variations, 'cover' versions and 'tributes', but for the most part the creation is fixed in form and time.
To continue the analogy, just one or maybe a very few people create a scenario while many people 'consume' it. And one is either a producer or a consumer - seldom both. If one is a 'consumer', it is difficult to challenge one part of a monolithic scenario without challenging the whole thing. One either buys enough of it to agree with the general thrust, or one rejects it - perhaps embracing and arguing for an alternative scenario.
In the content industries such boundaries are clearly starting to break down, as things like digital editing tools and blogs enable creative improvisation, re-use, and jazz-like riffs on others' thoughts and works. That topic and its intersection with copyright evolution is a big one unto itself. I use it here merely to point out how strategic thinking processes are long overdue for a similar process of modularization and opening-up.
To use another analogy, scenarios are also too often vertically integrated, e.g., in the way that the computer industry was until the mid/late 1980's, or the steel and automotive industries were in the early part of the 20th century. One either buys the final product from company A or one buys the final product from company B. One does not have the option of buying and assembling smaller components from a variety of more specialized suppliers. It is difficult to see how scenario A intersects or diverges from scenario B. They are simply different.
One drawback of this monolithic approach is that strategic discussions can become more binary than insightful. As we discussed last week, comparing scenarios can be a subjective and labor-intensive chore.
What is the antidote to all this? Modularity. Lego blocks. Tinker Toys. Mad Libs. The computer industry after the mid 1990's. The automotive industry of today. Jazz.
We approach scenarios with an assumption that a library of discrete but hypothetical future milestones (aka, 'events' or ''headlines') must be separate from a set of visions or 'endstates' for how the future might turn out. The endstates provide broad guidance to anchor 'big vision' thinking in several different directions but, (and this is key), without spelling out a particular way that any of those visions might be achieved. Modular. Putting endstates together with events is the scenario-building process. It is anything but monolithic. It may happen in multiple ways depending upon who's thinking about it and what new information is brought to the table, (e.g., real newspaper headlines as the emerge over time). But like jazz, there are certain patterns and commonalities of logic that start to emerge no matter who is building them. E.g., these events tend to precede these others; these are precursors to these, which are present in multiple scenarios, and these over here are forks in the road between two particular scenarios. These are interesting but largely irrelevant to two scenarios, critical to one, and moderately important but not essential to another.
The piece parts of modular scenarios may be assembled in different ways, but with clear points for comparison (in the form of the discrete events). Points of intersection and divergence between scenarios become much clearer. Reassembly becomes possible as new visions/endstates emerge, or as the relationships between scenarios morph and change. Monolithic scenarios can be useful at a single point in time, for thinking about a particular business problem. Modular scenarios are critical to thinking about modular business architecture and its open-ended possibilities. I.e., how might the value components, business units, and functions of an industry or an enterprise be recombined - acquired, divested, re-organized, re-aligned - to better fulfill a mission, be more efficient, etc.?
Modular scenarios also enable re-use. Like software (or at least the promise of object-oriented, or service-oriented software architectures), scenarios made out of parts that can live beyond a particular meeting make it dramatically more efficient to re-purpose them as new news comes in. Rather than rebuilding scenarios from scratch, (or worse, attempting to 'fix' them to fit what actually happened), organizations can look at discrete events in a scenario context to gain longitudinal insight into which 'road-signs' have been passed, which one have not yet been seen, and which are coming up. That kind of rally-driving speed and flexibility of strategic thought is critical in a fast moving, uncertain environment.
Next up: Interactivity.