Rick Wheatley speaks at Digital TEDxOslo "Corona Special"

Rick Wheatley, Executive Vice President - Transformation at Xynteo addressed how businesses can plan for the future when the “now” is falling apart at the Digital TEDxOslo "Corona Special" on Friday, 27 March. 

It’s easy for organisations and their leaders to get lost in a crisis. Lost in the newsfeed. The flood of information. The confusion.

And what is the first thing that happens when people get lost? They stop planning. They cope with the “now” and forget about the rest.

Right now, we’re in the middle of a crisis and that’s what many leaders are doing. Suddenly, they’ve let go of the future.

But that’s dangerous. Just because you stop thinking about the future, doesn’t mean there won’t be one.

There will be a future and it will affect you. You can get what you get - or you can shape it.

So. Question. How does one go about shaping the future in the middle of a crisis?

Create a few scenarios of what the future could be – let’s say three. They don’t have to be probable. Merely plausible.

Test them with experts & stakeholders. Craft them into stories. Ensure the plausibility of each can be backed up by facts.

There’s a catch, though: scenario planning is typically used with longer lead-times than we are thinking about now. To imagine situations 5 or 10 or more years out.

Right now, in our current crisis, we have a new challenge. We need to imagine futures that could be radically different in just 3, 9 or 18 months. Because life could be quite different in the near term and we’ll need to adapt.

So, the task has gotten harder, more relevant to us now – and more urgent.

Let’s look at some examples – three futures and two characteristics of each - that start relatively close to our old normal and get progressively further from it, in order to challenge our thinking:

Scenario 1: The struggle for yesterday

  • Stimulus efforts succeed in keeping key industries and businesses alive until after the shock is over.
  • Massive accumulation of public and private debt to keep the economy working and deal with post-crisis trauma.

Scenario 2: New deal redux

  • New public appetite for investment in public services; access to healthcare, unemployment benefits.
  • Aggressive surveillance by governments as they enforce measures like movement, social distancing and rationing.

Scenario 3: Gig society

  • Lack of international cooperation and strain on public finances as governments struggle to define and deliver credible strategy for re-firing the economy. People become more self-reliant.
  • Platform players with great economic power and logistical capabilities step into semi-governance roles. We move from a market system to a platform oligopoly.

Ok – final step. Test your strategy and plan against these three scenarios. Do your plans work across all three? Great. What if they only work in Scenario #1, The Struggle for Yesterday? Back to the drawing board.

Strategies and plans that are built to cope well across multiple futures are best. Ones that require hope or miracles? Not so much…

Now, remember how I started? Talking about great leaders? Great leaders think about the future systemic impacts of the decisions they make today.

But, so must parents, citizens, politicians, healthcare workers, farmers, and children. That responsibility is shared now.

They are unsatisfied with only surviving. They take control. And that’s what we need to do right now. Take back control of our futures: by making and implementing plans that are solid enough to work across the range of changes and challenges coming at us.

We will thrive in the end, but only if our – all of our – eyes are wide open. Dealing with the crisis unfolding outside our doors AND working hard to decide next steps that will work regardless of what happens.

Let’s get to work on exactly that.