Applying scenario planning to portfolio and financial risk: 6 steps to better risk management


Back in the late 1990s I did considerable work applying scenario planning to financial risk management, using qualitative approaches to managing risk as a complement to quantitative methodologies such as Value at Risk. However financial institutions were generally very slow to acknowledge the value of anything not fully quantified, so I shifted my attention to broader strategic issues. I wonder if the finance industry is now more ready for these kinds of approaches.

Here is an article I wrote in 1998 in Corporate Treasurer magazine in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997. The article has not dated, and remains completely relevant today. Just replace Asia crisis with the recent financial crisis of your choice.

Did You Forecast Asia? Scenarios In Portfolio And Risk Management

Did you forecast and respond effectively to the ongoing impact of the Asian crisis? The debate continues on whether or not the crisis was predictable, however the reality is that it was not effectively predicted. One of the major reasons is the strong bias in financial markets to making single-point forecasts. By their nature these cannot encompass anything except what is perceived as the most likely outcome, and thus blind us to the unexpected rather than help us to prepare for it.
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Why high performance organizations will thrive on uncertainty and lack of control


I recently gave a presentation at an offsite meeting of the leadership team of a global professional services firm. I was asked to speak about the future of business, and to be provocative, which is usually my objective in that kind of situation – it’s not very valuable if you can’t get people to think differently.

I discussed the driving forces of global business, and then gave them three ‘propositions’ of how I saw the future of business. One of the three propositions, which was really the underlying theme of my presentation, was ‘High performance organizations will thrive on uncertainty and lack of control.’

When you look at what has really changed in the best performing organizations of today compared to say those of a couple of decades ago, this is at the heart of the matter. Executives used to be in control, know what was happening, and to direct the company’s activities in detail to achieve success. That doesn’t work any more.
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4 reasons why an increased pace of change means greater unpredictability


I am writing this in the air over the Rockies, flying back from a scenario planning workshop I ran for a client yesterday.

Over the last dozen years that I have been running scenario planning projects I have observed that corporate interest in scenario planning is cyclical. The time horizons that executives think in tend to be driven by the health of their business, the recency of prominent unanticipated events such as the global financial crisis or Middle East upheaval, and visibility of challenges to their business model.

In my experience interest in scenario planning is picking up strongly, reflecting a variety of recent surprises of various kinds, as well as a general feeling of prosperity that permits budgets for the like of scenario projects.
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How do you become a futurist?


The current edition of Fast Thinking magazine has a feature article titled ‘Know Future’ on “the future of futurists”. It looks at the history and background of the profession and goes on to interview a number of prominent futurists. It quotes me:

Ross Dawson says becoming a futurist is pretty straightforward. “You can claim you are a futurist and people either believe you or they don’t.”

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What is the future of the IT department?


The future of enterprise technology is a massively important theme, which impacts organizations, vendors, governments, and indeed society at large. Taking each of these perspectives provides a different view on how the space is evolving.

One of the most interesting perspectives is from the very center of the fray: the IT department itself. It needs to deal with the minutiae of technological change as well as the macrotrends shaping organizations and their shifting place in the global economy.

I’ve teamed up with the outstanding strategist Greg Rippon of NetFocus, who I first worked with back in 1999 on a broad-ranging scenario project for a major bank, to create a one-day workshop for IT departments who want to take a structured look at the future and what it implies for their current strategy.

Click on the image for the flyer for the workshop on the future of the IT department.

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Experiential futures and the intersection between design and foresight


I have just attended a very interesting presentation by Stuart Candy on prototyping possible worlds. Stuart joined global design firm Arup six weeks ago after finishing his Ph.D on experiential futures at Hawaii’s Research Center for Futures Studies. Below are some of my live notes from his presentation plus a few reflections.

Stuart uses the word ‘monofuturism’ to describe the mistaken assumption that because only one future will happen, only one future can happen, so we need to try to work out what that future will be.

In thinking about the future, he brings out the issues of breadth and depth: breadth is about thinking widely about what could happen, depth is about thinking in sufficient detail about what could happen and the implications. 

Breadth can be dealt with by scenario planning and alternative futures, and that is being done reasonably well by leading organizations. Depth, generating specificity in what future worlds will look like, is generally done less well. 

Presentation of one of the scenarios from Hawaii 2050

Stuart used the example of a Hawaii 2050 futures project he helped created in which they brought the scenarios to life in an event, getting people to participate in what those scenarios would look like. He provides a nice overview of the scenarios and how they evoked them in an event for over 500 people.

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The Six Mindsets of Adaptive Leadership


Madston Black, a top-tier leadership development consultancy, recently engaged me to do some executive briefings on the future of business as part of some of leadership programs they are running for major Australian organizations.

For two of their major client leadership development programs, Madston Black also brought out Professor Ron Heifetz, Founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, to run workshops. They also organized two very well-attended public presentations for Ron in Sydney and Melbourne, and kindly invited me along.

Here is the video of Ron Heifetz’s Sydney presentation – while it’s an hour long it’s well worth watching for the rich insights and examples he offered on adaptive leadership (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership is his latest book).

Professor Ronald Heifetz Adaptive Leadership Presentation from Jimmy Tsang on Vimeo.

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Infographic: Used mobile phones yield 1000 times more gold than gold ore


A couple of weeks ago I flew to Perth to participate in a scenario planning project for a mining company. As I struck up conversation with the person next to me, it turned out we would both be presenting and contributing to the same workshop. I was kicking off the two-day workshop with a broad presentation on the future of business, while Damien Giurco, Research Director at University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, would speak later on ‘Cities as the mines of the future’.

Damien showed me their excellent report Peak Minerals in Australia, which provides an in-depth analysis of the state and implications of peak minerals. One of the data points quoted in the report was fascinating: used mobile phones yield 1000 times as much gold as gold ore. I thought it was worth creating an infographic to bring the point home – click on the image to download a large version of the infographic.


In short: make sure you recycle your mobile phone!

Why scenario thinking (more than scenario planning) is critical for executives today


I recently gave a presentation to the executive team of a major mining services company at their annual strategy offsite. As has been a frequent style of engagement for me this year, my role was to stimulate broader, longer-term thinking by talking about the future of business.

While I have been doing a range of scenario planning work recently, in this case I simply wanted to impress on the executives the importance of scenario thinking. I showed the following three slides to support my discussion of the issues.


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