In the previous post, I talked about the critical
uncertainties and driving themes (forecasts) that formed the starting point for
thinking about the outcomes of the financial crisis. Now comes the fun part: developing
the scenarios themselves.
In my view, the two critical uncertainties hanging over the
future are whether economic growth will resume or continue to be sluggish, and
whether the primary mode of leadership will be top-down or bottom up.
Think about each of these uncertainties as defining an axis
of a graph. The horizontal (X) axis represents economic growth. At the left pole
of the axis is the slow-growth/stagnation outcome, and at the right pole is
The predominant leadership mode is graphed on the vertical
(Y) axis, with top-down decision-making at the northern pole, and a more
bottom-up/insurgent model defining the southern pole. (see below)
With the uncertainties mapped as poles of each axis, the
graph now defines four quadrants (clockwise from upper left):
Sluggish economy with top-down leadership
Recovering economy with top-down leadership
Recovering economy led by outsiders and bottom-up
Sluggish/depressed economy with decentralized
Each quadrant of the graph represents a distinctly different
picture of the future, or scenario.
To add further color and character, I have assigned each scenario a descriptive
name: Petrified Forest, Atlas Stands
Tall, A Thousand Flowers Bloom, and Shards
So what are the primary characteristics of each scenario?
How and why are they importantly different?
postulates a world where large organizations retain control, but have not
succeeded in restoring economic growth. The logic of this outcome is fairly
easy to see: the incentives motivating each large organization, be it an
industry group, individual business, national or local government, etc., all
dictate that each should hold onto its own prerogatives, making collective
action impossible. Necessary reforms are stymied at every turn, creating a
world where big interests scramble over a constantly-shrinking pie.
Atlas Stands Tall
is the mirror opposite of this, where the collective action of the large
stakeholders succeeds in restarting economic growth. It is a world of greater
stability but less innovation. Disruptions are seen as threats to the new
equilibrium, whether they are genuinely worrisome regional conflicts or the
legitimate aspirations of outsiders trying to break into the club.
A Thousand Flowers
Bloom paints an alternative way out of the financial downturn - one lead by
emerging economies, bottom-up business models, innovation, and a rising global
generation of new talent. This world is much more dynamic and fast-paced, but
prone to risks, bubbles, and outbreaks of institutional amnesia that typically
accompany high-velocity culture.
Shards of Glass represents
the triumph of bottom-up populism, for better and worse. In this future, the
failures of large institutions have deepened the crisis and strengthened the
hand of extremists of all stripes, even as power devolves to more human-scale
communities and organizations.
In the next posts, we will examine each scenario in more
detail, looking at a few key questions. What is the business climate like in
each future? What is the role of information work and information workers? How
does the consumer experience differ? What are the social-economic forces at work?
And finally, how did we get to this future - in other words, what signs should
we look for as indicators that we may be moving in this direction?
Those questions can be addressed by looking at how the
dynamic themes play out in the different conditions of each scenario. Stay