I know Steve as a fellow graduate of the now defunct foresight program at Swinburne University of Technology, so was happy to review his book. It’s an excellent addition to the many volumes now written about using foresight approaches, and scenario planning in particular, mainly because of the impact of the approach used in the Swinburne program that can be defined as ‘depth in the practitioner results in depth in outcomes.’ Steve demonstrates his depth in the book and it is a worthy addition to the bookshelves of both practitioners as well as people in organisations seeking to strengthen their skills in anticipating the future.

Reframing Strategy is essentially a primer on using scenario planning in practice as a way to generate organisational empowerment to allow managers “to determine the future they want for their business” (p.xiii). I have to stop here because I now believe that seeking ‘the future’ is a red herring and we should instead be asking people in organisations to better understand their possible futures so they are ready for whatever emerges at the horizon of their contexts. While we need a preferred future to include in our strategic plans (if we still use them that is), preferred futures hold validity only until the changes that have shaped their design remain constant. Once changes have morphed into something else, the preferred future starts to lose validity.

Steve knows this too for he points out that the challenge of building organisational empowerment comes not from seeking ‘the future’ but from three things that we need to embed in both our strategic thinking and processes: (i) environmental sensitivity to anticipate shifts; (ii) willingness to transform an organisation to maintain social relevance; and (iii) generating a clear sustainable advantage that ensures the organisation continues to exist. His book is essentially how to do this in practice.

The book is arranged in three sections. The first – Searching - deals with ‘the trouble with trends’ and our singular fixation with prediction and data in strategy work (see p. 9) that can be remedied by using scenario planning. Reading Steve’s comments on our faith in data, in particular our use of data in inappropriate ways, was music to my ears – data is about the past and present when it is only our imaginations that allow us to anticipate the future. The second section – Learning – deals with the why of using scenario planning, including a useful history of how this approach has developed and how it can be used to reframe strategy (see p.48). Importantly, there is an emphasis on the strategy process as learning and ensuring that process is participative, both of which are critical if we are to move beyond the formulaic and template constraints of strategic planning.

The third section – Doing – provides a how-to approach to designing a scenario process and using it in practice. There is a detailed case study in this section (p.159) that shows how Steve has put this process into action in his three process steps: Anticipating the Future (Chapter 10); Positioning for the Future (Chapter 11); and Transitioning to the Future (Chapter 12). Chapter 13 is an excellent conclusion to the book focusing on the competitive advantages of the scenario-proficient organisation.

The biggest value of Steve’s book is that it is based on his practice and his experience. He shows how to make scenario planning work in ways that have been tested and proved effective. There are countless books that list a set of steps to follow with instructions on what to do at each step. All of these are valuable to some degree but not all of them demonstrate clearly what Rethinking Strategy does: first, the need to change perceptions and mental models to be open to the future in order to anticipate possible futures in organisationally relevant and effective ways, and two, ways in which that perceptual change can be achieved.

If you are new to using scenarios, Steve’s book will take you on that journey with insight, experience and a process refined progressively during his practice and with numerous practical examples. If you think you know all there is to know about scenario planning, think again and read Rethinking Strategy. This is a book I’m very happy to recommend unreservedly and congratulate Steve on his achievement.

Maree Conway
Thinking Futures
April 2019