Alternate Futures® Scenario Planning Finds Clarity in the Chaos

We live in interesting times. More than a century ago, at the dawn of the 20th century, British statesman Joseph Chamberlin declared: “I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times. I never remember myself a time in which our history was so full, in which day by day brought us new objects of interest, and, let me say also, new objects for anxiety.” Robert Kennedy said the same in his famous “Ripple of Hope” speech promoting racial equality in the U.S. and South Africa: “Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

More data ≠ more certainty

Interesting times, indeed. Today, the accelerating pace of change, global hyper-connectivity, and 24-hour news cycles raise our awareness of events like climate change, cyber-attacks, rogue nation-states, political gridlock, and economic difficulty. In the last century, leaders relied largely on instinct to develop strategies and make decisions. The “creative energy” that Kennedy spoke of is now fueled by historical data, cognitive science, and predictive analytics, such that leaders of today do not have to engage with the level of instinctual decision-making of eras past. And yet, although we have more information than ever before, our leaders face uncertainty on every level, from highly detailed to big picture.

Advanced analytics are only part of the equation

Big data and advanced analytics have become a popular catch-all when organizations seek to deal with complexity. While these can be helpful tools, reliance on them alone can lead to flawed solutions. The structure and direction provided by powerful data analytics must be paired with qualitative and intuitive considerations. Future-focused scenario planning incorporates both to provide a more complete understanding of the drivers of change and how vital they are to achieving optimal outcomes across a spectrum of futures.

  • Data points clarify the range of possibilities and uncover change drivers
  • Data modeling and analytics help to identify potential trends
  • Qualitative analysis adds depth that may be missing from the raw data
  • Collaborative, human-centered design exercises allow participants to “live in the worlds” so they can focus on a range of possible outcomes

Alternate Futures® Scenario Planning leads to sound decision making

Developing scenarios using Alternate Futures® Scenario Planning has long been a mainstay of the Toffler Associates’ approach to enabling Future Proof® organizations. The methodology identifies drivers of change that, in turn, create a range of possible futures. Clients can test the outcomes of decisions in multiple environments. Toffler Associates creates tailored scenarios that allow our clients to “stand in the future” and safely test and experience the opportunities, risks, and consequences of various courses of action.

Alternate Futures® Scenario Planning forces leaders to step away from the pace of day-to-day operations. By taking the time to step back and blend data and intuition, leaders are more likely to make intentional decisions that shape desired outcomes. For those tasked with establishing government policy, business plans, patient treatment plans, or other vital strategies, the process is a way to build confidence around the knowledge that certain things are more likely than not to happen.

Alternate Futures® scenario planning is not predicting the future. However, it enables leaders to explore a range of possibilities that balance the known with the sensed, creating the clarity and confidence that lead to sound decisions in a complex and fast-changing world.

Alternate Futures Method


About the Authors

Toffler Associates

As a consulting and advisory firm, Toffler Associates delivers strategic advantage to clients around the globe with an unwavering commitment to be the catalyst for change. Both the public and private sectors rely on Toffler Associates’ Future Proof® business consulting service and unique perspective to architect better futures.

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