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Rounding off our week of features on the Future of Work, I thought it appropriate to consider methods of exploring the future, in particular ways to help you think about your career trajectory. Perhaps one of the most well-known and used mechanisms for understanding possible futures […]

scenarioplanningRounding off our week of features on the Future of Work, I thought it appropriate to consider methods of exploring the future, in particular ways to help you think about your career trajectory.

Perhaps one of the most well-known and used mechanisms for understanding possible futures is scenario planning. Scenario planning essentially helps construct “storylines” that draw together factors from various overlapping domains — politics, technology, culture, demographics — into narratives that can sometimes yield surprising, serendipitous insights.

Scenario planning has a long history of use as a predictive tool in the military and large organizations, but it’s also surprisingly applicable to individuals who wish to model, simulate and explore their own personal future.

A recent piece in Wired outlines a method for personal scenario planning to help workers consider and imagine their career future, and model the factors that might influence it.

Conveniently, Wired’s artilce distills scenario planning into five easy steps:

  1. List driving forces. Which events, trends and variables affect your career? Categorize them under uncertainties” and “relative certainties,” ranked by importance. These are essentially the determining factors in your career.
  2. Make a scenario grid. Map your possible futures by selecting the most important uncertainties (from above) as axes of a 2×2 grid, you can then begin to populate each section of the grid with the description of a “potential future,” based on your chosen factors.
  3. Imagine possible futures. Rewrite your potential futures as fictional, but plausible, news stories to make each scenario more tangible and real.
  4. Brainstorm implications and actions. Here you begin to strategize how each possible future could be navigated. Begin with the implications of each scenario, followed by discrete actions. Some actions might work in multiple scenarios, indicating that these are the most secure paths forward.
  5. Track the indicators. The scenarios you’ve established prepares you to absorb what’s ahead and recognize events and developments which signal if elements of particular scenarios are in play. Testing your actions against these indicators regularly helps you anticipate your reaction to various futures.

Wired’s article uses the example of an aerospace engineer seeking to future-proof his career over the next five years. There’s no reason the same methodology couldn’t be applied to the world of a designer, developer, consultant, journalist or any of the multitude of web working disciplines.

I recently took part in an Arup-hosted scenario planning session at TED Global 2009, in Oxford. Over the course of two hours, around seventy people teased out a set of priorities for addressing global problems, using Arup’s own Drivers Of Change scenario planning tools. It was a fascinating exercise in anticipating future developments, and something that I’m certain would work well on a personal and individual scale for managing a career.

I’d love to see an enterprising and imaginative group create a crowdsourcing-driven application for personal scenario planning. Perhaps we might even see the evolution of scenario coaches to assist freelancers, in particular.

Read more at “Your Future in 5 Easy Steps: Wired Guide to Personal Scenario Planning.”

Which methodologies and practices do you use to future-proof your own career? What are your “drivers of change”?

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