40 Years of Shell scenarios

Shell is celebrating the 40th anniversary of their scenario thinking. From the start on, this forward thinking, as they claim, helps them to make crucial decisions. Indeed, Shell is a lighting example of how a company can incorporate scenario thinking in their organisation. At the celebration symposium they explained about their scenario culture and addressed this subtle process. Watch here their “Imagining the future” video:

When they started their first official scenario project in 1972, they immediately had a big hit. As the story goes, they had been considering the option of an oil crisis. So when it struck in 1973 they were able to anticipate very quickly and were one of the oil companies who knew how to deal with such a crisis. With this early success in their pockets, Shell continued their forward thinking strategies and has been considering many more crises before they struck. The quite influential Scenario team is dedicated not only to the famous scenario reports, but they also involve the whole organisation in their scenario thinking processes. “The brain is outside the head”, is how Jeremy Bentham, current Head of Scenarios explains this. The scenario team learns from people in and outside the company. That is how they attempt to create wisdom.

What this forward thinking does, is that it creates a memory of the future. As you are experiencing such things when actually happening, then you can grasp the importance of them much faster. Recently in Shell, recession and recovery have been highlighted, in order to avoid over reacting and under reacting. It is a process of exploration, how to uncover the unknown unknowns? It is a journey where people are stimulated to explore what is in the forefronts of their minds. Bentham quoted Schopenhauer to illustrate the subtle process of what this exploration does when you try to confront others with it: “All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self evident.” The scenario team has run into resistance many times, but that encouraged them that they were on the right track. That is part of the process. By the time the work is crystallised and published, it should be self-evident in the minds of those to whom it is directed.

The speakers on the anniversary symposium addressed the core of the matter, strategies for forward thinking. Pim van der Feltz, head of Google Benelux, sees the unexpected happening much more often than the models say. He encourages people to take a rational look at irrationality. Therefore, stay with you big aims, but leave ample room for trial and error. Mia de Kuijper also holds that normal is no longer there. Increased global connectivity, through social media, enables popularity to become reinforced into something even bigger. Sensing the environment is therefore even more important nowadays, then it ever was. You may note that this way of considering future possibilities mirrors the Black Swan thinking of Taleb, discussed in an earlier blog. I think that Shell showed very nicely how they incorporated state-of-the-art scenario thinking in their corporate culture. And it’s great that they are sharing this with the rest of the world.

Here you can download their 40 Year Anniversary brochure, to meet the people and discover more.

About Freija Van Duijne

Twitter: @FreijavanDuijne Futuring is my passion. I am fascinated about what the future might bring. Always looking around for leads about the future and open for new insights. I am futurist, trendwatchter and strategist at the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, a thinktank in the Netherlands. My background is in Human factors psychology. I did my Masters at Leiden University and I did a PhD in Delft University at the faculty of Industrial design engineering. I have been involved in foresight studies since 2006. I am frequently asked as an expert for future studies in area of food, natural resources, health and governance. I am also a speaker and workshop facilitator on futures studies, trend presentations and the many topics that I blog about. My contributions to Futuristablog represent my own personal opinion and is never a statement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
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