Building richer mental models is the heart of strategy – the role of scenario planning


Strategy is an intrinsically human task. Setting successful strategies is based on our ability to think effectively, both individually and collectively, about extraordinarily complex domains.

In a recent keynote I did for clients of New Scientist magazine on Science and Leadership for the Future, I discussed how executives can think effectively about strategy.

The following video is one of a series of 7 videos that captured the entire keynote.

In the video I note:

“Mental Models is a domain of cognitive psychology which was pioneered by, among others, Kenneth Craik, Henry Mintzberg, and more recently, and probably most famously, Peter Senge. The idea is that as humans, the way in which we look at and respond to the world around us is based on implicit models of how the world works.

If we were to look at people generally, including business executives, some people have some quite limited Mental Models; others have richer Mental Models. Our Mental Models shape how we filter information from the world around us and the decisions we make as a result. Yet it is possible for us to use that input of information to actually change and improve our Mental Model of how the world works.

Crudely, there are two types of people: those that have a fixed Mental Model of the world, which continues over the years; and those who are able to adapt, change, enrich, and improve their Mental Model. That is invaluable, not least given that we are living in a rapidly changing world.”

I go on to discuss the function and importance of scenario planning, and then its role in building richer mental models:

“It’s not so much Scenario Planning as a discipline that is important; it is Scenario Thinking, the ability for executives to be able to conceive that there is more than one possible, plausible world. What you will often see in executive circles are forceful executives who say, “This is what’s going to happen,” and they fight for their view. They have a fixed Mental Model, and they are not looking to change it.

The value of Scenario Thinking is to be able to develop richer ways of thinking, to envisage that there are different worlds that are possible, there are different paths the world could follow.”

I wrote about this idea in more depth in a post Why scenario thinking (more than scenario planning) is critical for executives today.

I covered quite a few more ideas in the strategy video, you can read the full transcript on