Trends analysis & scenarios


Analysis: Once you identify a trend, you’ll need to find out what caused it, how fast it’s developing, and how it will impact you both personally and professionally. Remember: a trend can have lots of different impacts, many of which may not be immediately apparent. Keep an eye out for those secondary impacts!

Causal Analysis identifies the forces that are creating and shaping the trend. Often, these forces are themselves trends, so you may have to probe further to identify the causes of the contributory trends. This analysis is especially important if you want to slow or halt the trends.

Impact Analysis identifies the effects of the trend. All too often, important consequences escape notice. Something to keep in mind: a trend can have many surprising consequences, and anticipating those can be tricky.

Monitoring: Trends viewed as particularly important should be carefully monitored–watched and reported on regularly. For example, a rapidly rising unemployment rate or the appearance of a deadly new disease such as XDRTB (an extremely drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis) can have significant impacts on many different organizations and communities.

Projection: When statistics are available, a trend can be plotted on graph paper to show how the trend has evolved over time. If desired, the trend line can then be extended or “projected” into the future, based on the recent rate of change. Such a projection shows where the trend should be at some point in the future–assuming there is no shift in the rate of change, that is. However, additional factors will often cause that change rate to vary.

Here’s an example: A population with a steady 2% rate of annual growth will double in about 35 years. Based on that projection, we can now begin to figure out what some of the consequences would be: More traffic, more pollution, less green space, more businesses and cultural activities, and so on. And now that we have a conceptual structure, we can start to think realistically about what the future holds in store.

We can also start asking ourselves questions about how best to plan for and to shape the future. Far too often, people talk about what to do and how to do it before they understand the situation they are in and how it’s shifting.

That said, it’s unlikely that we’ll be 100% accurate. We’ll probably be off to some degree, and maybe even miss it by a mile. The farther down the line we try to project a trend, the more likely it is that our anticipation will be wide of the mark. Nonetheless, trend projection has proven extremely invaluable when forecasting everything from economic and demographic shifts to the likelihood of armed conflict breaking out in a given country or region. And a knowledge of current trends and their possible implications is highly relevant to the practical decisions we make.

Another way to measure the impact of a particular trend is by leading it through an imaginary set of consequences. This technique, known as   Scenarios, can help you better understand where a specific trend is heading and how it could impact you. (It’s also helpful for dentifying the possible outcomes of different business strategies as well.) Well-thought-out stories can help you figure out the best ossible ways to react and adjust to future developments.

Try the following exercise: First, choose a trend that will most likely have a long-term impact on your organization. Now tell a story about it. Describe, in narrative form, the future development of that rend. Take into account as many variables and outside factors as you can think of.

Scenarios: Very serious fiction

In the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War, Herman Kahn and the RAND Corporation, working for the U.S. military, described what might happen in the event that World War III broke out. They asked some seriously tough questions, such as: What would happen if ten U.S cities were hit by thermonuclear bombs? How might New York City be evacuated on short notice? And then they used reason and imagination to try and answer those questions.

Scenarios aren’t forecasts, but they aren’t science fiction either. By putting your thoughts and ideas into story form, you can identify things that might happen, describe how they might actually occur, and figure out what the consequences would be.

Well-thought-out scenarios allow us to weigh the pros and cons of various decisions. Scenarios don’t provide precise knowledge about the future, but they do enable us to make better, more informed decisions, both personally and professionally.

The multiple-scenario approach forces us to think about the future in terms of alternative possibilities, rather than a fixed, predetermined outcome. In this case, we are going to create not just one but three alternative scenarios:

1. The Surprise-Free Scenario: this storyline assumes that current

trends will continue without much change. (This is often called the

“business-as-usual scenario.”)

2. The Optimistic Scenario: this storyline is based on the assumption

that things will only get better.

3. The Pessimistic Scenario: this storyline is based on the assumption

that things will only get worse.

We could even go further and add two more possible scenarios: a Disaster Scenario and a Miracle Scenario. Five scenarios are probably the most that you’ll want to develop, however.

(From Futuring: The Exploration of the Future by Edward Cornish,

available from the World Future Society,