The Essence of Scenarios

Learning from the Shell Experience

Angela Wilkinson and Roland Kupers

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.
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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