The Essence of Scenarios

Learning from the Shell Experience

Angela Wilkinson and Roland Kupers

The Essence of Scenarios

Angela Wilkinson and Roland Kupers

Distributed for Amsterdam University Press

185 pages | 6 x 9
Paper $37.50 ISBN: 9789089645944 Published February 2014 For sale only in the United States, its dependencies, the Philippines, and Canada
In 1965, Royal Dutch Shell started experimenting with a new approach to preparing for the future. This approach, called scenario planning, eschewed forecasting in favor of plausible alternative stories. By using stories, or “scenarios,” Shell aimed to avoid the false assumption that the future would look much like the present—an assumption that marred most corporate planning at the time. The Essence of Scenarios offers unmatched insight into the company’s innovative practice, which still has a huge influence on the way businesses, governments, and other organizations think about and plan for the future.

In the course of their research, Angela Wilkinson and Roland Kupers interviewed almost every living veteran of the Shell scenario planning operation, along with many top Shell executives from later periods. Drawing on these interviews, the authors identify several principles that characterize the Shell process and explain how it has survived and thrived for so long. They also enumerate the qualities of successful Shell scenarios, which above all must be plausible stories with logical trajectories. Ultimately, Wilkinson and Kupers demonstrate the value of scenario planning as a sustained practice, rather than as a one-off exercise.
Contents
Acknowledgements
Preface by Peter Ho
Introduction: The “Gentle Art”
Sources
 
I A Unique Legacy
 
II Shell Scenarios – A History, 1965-2013
Experimentation and Emergence, 1965-1981
Moving Closer to the Business, 1982-1990
Culture Change, 1990-1999
Cheaper, Deeper Thinking, 1999-2006
New Pathways to ‘Challenging and Heard’, 2006-2013
 
III The Essence of the Shell Art
1 Improving Intuition
2 Plausible, Not Probable
3 Striking the Balance Between Relevant and Challenging
4 Pragmatic, Not Ideological
5 Realizing the Role of the Future in the Present
6 Focused and Targeted
7 Engaging the Client in the Process
8 Memorable, Yet Disposable
9 Storytelling – the Heart of Strategic Conversation
10 The Necessity of Numbers
11 The Creation of a Scenario Team
12 Serving as Door-Openers and Adding Value to External Relationships
13 Fostering a Culture of Openness and Curiosity
14 Managing Disagreement as an Asset
15 Providing Value within a Broader Management System
 
IV Looking Ahead
From ‘Seeing’ to ‘Seeding’, Not Growing Better Futures
Beyond Products to Value-Added Services
The Future of Shell Scenarios
Business Lens
Reaching Out
 
V Conclusion
The Evolution Continues – the Essence Remains
 
Epilogue: Scenario Team Leaders
 
Afterword
A Timeline
B Summary of Scenarios
 
Index
Review Quotes
Kees van der Heijden | director & cofounder of the Global Business Network and professor emeritus of Strathclyde University
“This is a major case study of scenario planning, something that is not easily available to the student of scenario planning.”
Cynthia Selin | Arizona State University
“As someone who teaches scenario planning at the graduate and undergraduate level, I would definitely start with this story as a frame to talk about the diverse practices that have sprouted up around and since Shell’s landmark practice.”
Angel Gurría | secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
"Global scenarios are increasingly relevant in today's fast moving, interdependent world than when they began to be developed 50 years ago. Uncertainty should not be an excuse for failing to shape a brighter future, but an incentive to pursue better policies for better lives."
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