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The Art Of The Long View: Planning For The Future In An Uncertain World

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What increasingly affects all of us, whether professional planners or individuals preparing for a better future, is not the tangibles of life—bottom-line numbers, for instance—but the intangibles: our hopes and fears, our beliefs and dreams. Only stories—scenarios—and our ability to visualize different kinds of futures adequately capture these intangibles.

In The Art of the Long View, now for the first time in paperback and with the addition of an all-new User's Guide, Peter Schwartz outlines the "scenaric" approach, giving you the tools for developing a strategic vision within your business.

Schwartz describes the new techniques, originally developed within Royal/Dutch Shell, based on many of his firsthand scenario exercises with the world's leading institutions and companies, including the White House, EPA, BellSouth, PG&E, and the International Stock Exchange.

272 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1991

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About the author

Peter Schwartz

26 books31 followers
Peter is the author of Inevitable Surprises (2003), a provocative look at the dynamic forces at play in the world today and their implications for business and society. His first book, The Art of the Long View(1991), is considered a seminal publication on scenario planning and was recently voted the No. 1 futures book by the Association of Professional Futurists. He also co-authored The Long Boom (1999), a vision for the world characterized by global openness, prosperity, and discovery; When Good Companies Do Bad Things (1999), an examination of and argument for corporate social responsibility; and China’s Futures (2001), which describes very different scenarios for China. He publishes and lectures widely and served as a script consultant on the films "The Minority Report," "Deep Impact," "Sneakers," and "War Games." Peter received a B.S. in aeronautical engineering and astronautics as well as an honorary doctorate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 72 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Burnam-Fink.
1,472 reviews221 followers
January 29, 2012
I've been calling myself a futurist for the past five years, and for five years, I've been lying. But no longer, because I've read this book, which is every bit as a thought-provoking as Science Fiction for Prototyping proved disappointing. Peter Schwartz is one of the founders of the Global Business Network consulting firm, and honed his skills designing scenarios for Shell Oil in the 1980s. In The Art of the Long View, he makes a strong case for the utility of scenario planning, explains how to develop a proper futurist mindset, and how to create your own scenarios.

Scenario planning is not predicting the future. Rather, it is about challenging the official future, and the assumptions that underlie it. Scenarios force you to examine your unspoken beliefs and values, the evidence supporting them, and how you might react in the future. An organization that includes scenario planning in its process is better able to react to rapidly changing conditions, and less likely to be rendered slowly obsolete through technological change.

Scenario planning is inherently interdisciplinary. A scenario plan has to include technological, economic, cultural, and political factors, as well as individual psychology. Broad areas of knowledge rather than deep and narrow research is better suited at picking up on trends. The ideas and forces that most powerfully influence the future originate on the margins of society, among the dispossessed, the utopian, or the just plain weird. Finally, Schwartz includes a detailed, 8 stage guide to using scenarios in your own organization, with a good balance of theories and examples. Perhaps the ultimate success of scenario planning is that it creates a shared language to talk about the future.

Scenario planning might not be about predicting the future, but a futurist who makes no predictions isn't very useful. The book was published in 1991, and some parts feel oddly anachronistic, like the Japanophilia, the groping towards a 'digital global teenager', and the absence of the War on Terror. On the other hand, he offers three scenarios for the world in 2005: New Empires focused on regional militarism, Market World with multicultural entrepreneurialism, and Change Without Progress, where the wealthy hollow out states, and fear of losing what little remains prevents successful action. Change Without Progress is strikingly similar to the world today, with our 1%ers and 99%ers, paralyzed multinational bodies, and collapsing infrastructure.

Scenario planning is not a strict methodology that automatically produces valid results, it's an attitude towards the future that is based on broad understandings of historical forces and skepticism about the status quo. The results will vary on the quality of the questions you can ask, the data available, and the conversation you foster. But as far as crystal balls go, scenario planning is one of the best.
Profile Image for Jill.
720 reviews31 followers
August 25, 2011
It's easy for a book published in 1991 to feel dated, especially when the second last chapter of the book is titled "The World in 2005: Three Scenarios" and when the book references Mikhail Gorbachev. But Chapter 9 aside, The Art of the Long View is still a very relevant read for anyone looking at the medium to long term and wondering how they can position themselves and their organisations to meet future challenges. More so in these volatile times when it seems that we're not just confronted by evolutionary changes in technology, demographic shifts etc, but also being buffeted by "black swans" - the economic meltdown in 2008, the tsunami in Japan, earthquakes in NZ, etc.

I must admit that I was very sceptical about the process of "scenario planning", having been introduced to the concept a couple of years back in some planning exercise. The scenarios raised in some cases were so outlandish that most people's immediate instinct, including my own, was to dismiss the scenario as ridiculous or fantastical (what would happen if technology became so advanced that employers start to replace their workers with robots?). Reading Schwartz's book, I now realise that it wasn't a problem with the methodology, it was a problem with the facilitator. As Schwartz explains, "scenarios are stories about the way the world might turn out tomorrow, stories that can help us recognise and adapt to changing aspects of our present environment....scenario planning is about making choices today with an understanding of how they might turn out". For scenarios to work, and by work, Schwartz doesn't mean that you accurately predicted how the future would unfold. Rather, a scenario works if the storyline is plausible and strikes a chord with decision makers, such that they learn to recognise developments signalling a shift from the current plot and change their behaviour appropriately.

It's easy to dismiss scenario planning as mere storytelling and theatre. Indeed, Schwartz talks about how one can use powerful images - the illustration of a shattered Humpty Dumpty being used to illustrate the inability of OPEC to regain its former strength - to seize people's imaginations and attention about the future. But at its heart, scenario planning is about sensemaking - looking at myriad bits of information about the world, filtering them and trying to understand what they're telling you about how the world is changing. A thought provoking read.
Profile Image for Infromsea.
21 reviews2 followers
June 17, 2007
I hate not finishing a book. I’ve only “not finished” three or four books in my life, this book really tested me to the end. It’s on the Navy recommended reading list so I pulled it down and took it for a spin. Let me sum it up for you: think of all possibilities and what you would do should those possibilities come to light. Honestly, that’s it. Don’t waste you time, move on. There is a great deal of attempting to back up the art of looking forward and thinking of all possibilities with data but honestly, this should have been a term paper or submitted to an online journal, there is not enough there to be a standalone title.

Profile Image for Cav.
639 reviews82 followers
May 24, 2022
Sorry to mark this one DNF...
It was on the reading list of sports performance psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais's course "Finding Your Best." I have gone through a good number of the titles there, and have generally enjoyed the books he recommends.

Sadly, I did not enjoy this one, tho. As I mentioned; I did not finish it, and put it down ~midway through; something I almost never do...

In general, I found most of the writing to be unengaging, tedious and dry. My attention was wandering more often than not.
Much of the writing is also outdated; eg there is lots of talk about growth hormone lengthening human lifespans by 30% [citation missing]. The author also provides an outdated list of magazines to procure credible information on the "upcoming" computer revolution from; most of which are now (of course) irrelevant.

Finally, most of the book can be accurately summed up as: "Plan for unexpected scenarios." Wow, revolutionary....


1 star, and off to the return bin... Gervais: Why was this book on your list?
Profile Image for Jonathan Jeckell.
102 reviews17 followers
April 27, 2014
I had major reservations about this book at first. I've been deeply steeped in books like "Thinking Fast and Slow" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... and "Think Twice" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6... that warn about the dangers of our intuition and our penchant for developing a coherent narrative. As I continued, the author emphasized the need to develop multiple scenarios and avoid latching on to one of them as your official or favorite prediction. He gave pretty solid guidance on how to develop the scenarios and develop warning signs to hint which may be coming to pass. Thinking ahead about changes most people resist thinking about (such as "my worst nightmare") facilitates preparing for possible outcomes and making rational, deliberate decisions when the time comes. He also emphasized diverse and widespread participation in developing the scenarios, both to capture unanticipated influences, and to use them as a communication and collaboration tool. Predicting the future is useless unless your organization is prepared to act on those predictions. This is where the narrative effect has a powerful effect--vividly communicating the vision of the future so people understand it and it prepares them to change their behavior in anticipation of changes in the environment.

As the title suggests, the method has a lot of art and no assurances that a reader can replicate this technique in their organization for a number of reasons. It's hard to argue whether the technique works or not because there are so many ways it can go wrong that have nothing to do with the technique. The author warns of a number of these potential pitfalls. For example, this whole thing could fall on its face if the senior leadership dominates the conversation or the organization does not buy into it. As mentioned before, the narrative development process could be misused or lead people badly astray without watching for some of the cognitive glitches and biases Kahnemann warns about in "Thinking Fast and Slow."
Profile Image for Nate Huston.
111 reviews6 followers
April 23, 2013
A bit like "Good Strategy Bad Strategy" in that it is fairly straightforward and discusses standard corporate planning and strategy fare. Again, nothing too earth-shattering, though to someone not familiar with this sort of scenario-based planning, it is a great introduction. For the more advanced reader or practitioner, it still has value insofar as it simplifies and codifies what good scenario-based planning is all about - better decision-making.

The most valuable insight in Schwartz's book is that the end result is not necessarily an accurate picture of tomorrow, but better decisions about the future. (9) This is not to say that scenarios need not be realistic. On the contrary, Schwartz spends a great deal of time extolling the virtues of information-gathering (both regarding specific scenarios and in general) and emphasizes that a critical first step in scenario building is determining driving forces, predetermined elements, and critical uncertainties. For those familiar with military planning, those ought to look a lot like Centers of Gravity, Assumptions, and Commander's Critical Information Requirements.

His example on page 191, introducing the concept of "rehearsing the future," sums up the intent of scenario-based planning. He likens it to rehearsing for three separate plays at the same time and not knowing which one you will perform until you walk out on stage opening night and must determine which play it is by looking at the scenery around you. Scenario-based planning, hopefully, prepares you to deal with an uncertain future.
Profile Image for Nicolas.
13 reviews
January 23, 2014
Shows its age, but well worth reading, sold on scenario-building.

I'm reviewing the 1996 edition.

What the book does well.
It’s a great sales pitch for the concept of scenario-building. I'm sold on the idea.
It's very approachable and easy reading. There are a lot of anecdotes, asides about history, culture, and social observations. I appreciated Peter Schwartz's keen powers of observation.
That said, the writing style is mostly in the form of anecdotes, most of which will be confusing to readers who did not grow up in the 80s. The book's age is a constant distraction.

There are a lot of excellent academic level concepts on scenario-building, how it work, why it works, how to make it work. Most of it is summarized in the index, which is not to miss.

Overall, it's a great introduction to the concepts of scenario planning. It has many flaws, but it's well worth reading.
Profile Image for Peter.
165 reviews19 followers
August 13, 2021
I oscillated between three and five stars for this book. In general, the core concept introduced by Schwartz is a five-star concept: the idea of making scenarios is something I've done intuitively at various points in my career to think through the long-term trends that are driving various situations and then develop various concrete actions in the present, but didn't have a language to describe. And there were key ideas around information diet, exploration versus exploitation within expertise, building professional and personal networks and more which were quite helpful. But broadly, I think that the book was slightly too long and focused on too many concrete examples of the output of using the framework in practice rather than the nitty gritty details of actually implementing it. The idea was dynamite - the rest of the book less-so.
Profile Image for Blue Morse.
101 reviews1 follower
December 9, 2020
This book is not about predicting the future, rather it is about perceiving futures in the present as a means to penetrate our assumptions and internal mental defenses. Put simply, this book is about how to adapt and survive in an ever changing environment by asking the right questions through scenario based reasoning.

Schwartz unpacks a lot of themes in this book like the power of narratives, diversity of thought, and organizational resiliency.

However, arguably his best contribution is the method of questioning that helps us get to know “the shape of unfolding reality.”
Profile Image for Rita Arens.
Author 11 books171 followers
June 6, 2021
Parts of this had phenomenal advice, particularly about how to construct and use scenarios. It was written in 1991 and some predictions came true (pandemic) and some were laughable. Looking forward to the distant future of 2005 was weird.
Profile Image for Emily Dhondt.
12 reviews
March 28, 2023
Read for school. Examples are too long. Could be half the size of the book for most of what he’s talking about.
Profile Image for Emmi.
122 reviews
April 18, 2020
I am just trying to understand the theories and pragmatics of futuristic studies. This is the first book, which I read after received a recommendation. I would say, this makes a simple understanding of scenario planning. Despite the fact that it was published in 1990s, I would say a beginner can understand how to see the long view with enough of examples.
46 reviews3 followers
August 13, 2018
This book was written in 1991, but I found it tremendously useful even in 2018. I continuously wondered why this book was not a prescribed text at my MBA school. This has to rank as one the better books on strategy and future planning.
345 reviews3,028 followers
August 21, 2018
In the early 1970’s Royal Dutch Shell formed a unit called Group Planning. Lead by Pierre Wack this group made scenario planning a part of the strategic process in the company. When OPEC caught the rest of the world by surprise by declaring an oil embargo in 1973, Shell was mentally prepared for a situation like this and could take actions that propelled them to become the largest company in the world. They had already thought through what they would do and how they would act if a scenario like this would become reality. They knew the script.

At this time Peter Schwartz was at Stanford developing methods for scenario planning and when Wack later on retired from Shell Schwartz was his successor. Today he is seen as a leading futurist. After leaving Shell, Schwartz co-founded the strategy firm Global Business Network and as of 2011 he’s responsible for strategic planning at Salesforce.com. This book is by many considered as the seminal work on scenario planning and the author wants to teach the readers how to plan for the future and thus be prepared for whatever happens. I came into contact with “The Shell Way” as part of a recent McKinsey presentation. The methods are still in use.

“Risk means more things can happen than will happen.” Even though the future is basically unknowable this doesn’t mean we cannot prepare for it. Scenario planning is a key tool in this respect. By creating frameworks that combine a number of complex drivers for change and causal links, scenarios can be constructed that aid companies in their long term planning. By having discussed various scenarios of the future and having planned responses to them were they to become reality, the mental mindset of management becomes less stale and overconfident in what they might previously have considered as the most probable future. With the scenarios at hand it’s further possible to have a sharper eye when looking for signs of which of the multiple futures that seams to be developing into reality.

The Art of the Long View is not really a practical handbook in how to perform the craft of scenario planning. Sure, the process is described here and there in the text and the chapters are arranged in accordance with a scenario analysis, but the book is equally much a historic account of the strategic work in Shell during a period of time, a biography of Peter Schwartz himself and a number of philosophical thoughts on forecasting and making plans for the future - although always with a firm belief that forecasting is possible and necessary. Quite a lot of the text regards the work of “futurists” plus the methods for and value of holding strategic discussions in companies. I found the book a bit muddled and also a bit dated. The faith in the clairvoyance of corporate strategic planners has faded considerably since the 1990’s. However, forecasting is still a big business. Overall I’m in the author’s camp on using scenarios to liberate the mind from set notions but the book could have been much more stringent and helpful in guiding the reader. In the later 1996 edition of the book a much-needed appendix called Steps to Developing Scenarios was added.

In the book, three scenarios for 2005 are laid out. This created the need for a follow up and in 2011 a 60-page text called Learnings from the Long View was published, discussing general lessons on forecasting learnt during the years (many that resonate well with the more recent findings of behavioural finance and group psychology), reviewing the old scenarios and also crafting new ones for 2025.

The work of Wack and Schwartz was surely groundbreaking at the time and Shell no doubt owes them a great deal. For someone that is interested in scenario analysis in 2014 I would suspect there are several more contemporary books that serve the purpose better.
Profile Image for JJ W..
940 reviews56 followers
August 17, 2018
Really 2.5 stars, but Goodreads.

So this is an overview of how to be a "futurist," which is someone who tries to anticipate how various changes in business, culture, and whatever else will affect the choices you make today. Schwartz draws mostly on his work at Shell back in the 70s and 80s to talk about creating scenarios, which are narratives of possible futures. The information is solid, challenging the reader to consider if this happened, then what--it's not a hard concept, but not one that people lay out very often.

It was an interesting read, but one of the biggest drawbacks is that it's so very dated. Schwartz wrote this in the early 90s, which means the world he's describing doesn't yet have the Clinton impeachment, September 11, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the global financial crash of 2008, or the rise of far-right ideology in America, India, Britain, and many other countries. Schwartz is still talking about the possibilities of electronic networking around the world because the internet was still finding its feet at that point and nothing of social media yet existed. He spends some time praising the idea of virtual reality and what that will bring to things, which is way far off of what VR actually is these days.

That doesn't make the book bad, just less useful. Schwartz has a futurecast scenario for 2005, which is now 13 years ago. Some of what he called is close, so obviously his method works, but much of it is altered by huge things he simply could not have seen. Some great ideas, but bound to their time, which is a bit unfortunate for a book about looking ahead. Take the steps, leave the narratives.
Profile Image for Jack.
15 reviews
September 17, 2020
The book utilized the notion of "scenario" to explain lots of phenomenons from business world, such as which business does well during which period of time which really made sense to me.

A complete scenario session puts you on right business track. But there is a prerequisite, and this is a big prerequisite - you need to do a tons, tons, and tons of field research on what customer is really looking for. You spend time and energy to know that even during the hard economic times, people are still wanting luxury-priced goods because of this and that, all of which you found in the scenario pre-research, then you made the conclusion that under this scenario, expensive gardening tool business shall survive such recession period.

I would say this, this book does convey a good amount of useful information and it's an old book that "refreshes" relatively modern minds.
Profile Image for CHAD FOSTER.
157 reviews4 followers
October 26, 2018
A very interesting book written in the early 1990s by noted futurist Peter Schwartz. Much of what the author offers parallels later works by Danikel Kaheman and Gary Klein. Most notably, Schwartz describes his approach to building scenarios to change the way that decision-makers in large organizations think about future possibilities. As he notes, scenari0-building is not about prediction, it is about re-perceiving what MIGHT happen. Doing so gets leaders beyond the stagnation of status quos and the blinders that accompany cognitive bias. The end of the book constitutes a bit of a "how to" manual in approaching the important topics described earlier - including the building of scenarios and having "strategic conversations" with others. Overall, an outstanding book.
Profile Image for Jorė.
182 reviews11 followers
February 29, 2020
I enjoyed Schwartz approach to the scenario planning - "Using scenarios is rehearsing the future. You run through the simulated events as if you were already living them. You train yourself to recognize which drama is unfolding. That helps you avoid unpleasant surprises, and know how to act."
The valuable part of this book is an in-depth description of methods and ways of thinking developed in Shell for their strategic conversations. It's just what I was looking for.
Some of the illustrating stories are really nice, also examples of scenarios. Having in mind the book is written 30 y ago, those guys were really insightful about plenty of topics. Some other stories were harder to focus on, but I might get back to them some other time.

It goes on my list of the top strategy reads
Profile Image for J  Brown.
71 reviews
June 1, 2017
This book is a must for anyone who needs the understanding of what the long hard hours are leading to at the end of the day. Once you have dedicated yourself to your craft you can appreciate the ideas the Peter Schwatrz presents in The Art of the Long View. His explanation of deliberate practice is a keen insight on how to focus and make the most of the fruits of a punishing workload. For those who are disciplined and/or fortunate enough not to have gone through the labor of deliberate practice realization, you may to find a sharpening word of advice among the knowledge presented. Have fun with this gem.
Profile Image for Mohamed Yehia.
94 reviews8 followers
August 22, 2017
The book is one of the classics in the strageic scenario planning technique as a more effective way of strategic planing than the traditional fixed way of seeing only one future state & work towards it.

It talks about the origin of the subject & the first projects that had successfully used this planing tool.

The books lays the foundations of this field of knowledge in a really good way, with an easy to understand language away from any embegouty.

The process he describes is a bit old after this years. All in all I recommend the book for anyone who wish to have a good introduction session about the subject.
46 reviews
December 24, 2018
This book was probably precedent setting when published. On scanning through it in 2017, I thought it presented a good check list for bracketing a challenging issue. However, most futurists have incorporated the approach outlined in their analysis.
Profile Image for Mare.
109 reviews10 followers
January 21, 2019
Read this for school and I am not exactly sure why. I imagine my professor was moved by this book in 1990, but all reference points are so very dated and reading a self-proclaimed futurist wax poetic about the technological advancements of Walkmen and fax machines in 2019 is painful.
1 review1 follower
September 4, 2019
Great for military

Must read for all current a future leaders of the military. This is how you develop strategic thinkers who may be positioned at the strategic, operational or tactical level.
Profile Image for Marion Kipiani.
35 reviews1 follower
November 25, 2019
A good discussion of the importance of scenario planning and the steps in developing scenarios. The book would have benefited from being a little less wordy and better organized,avoiding multiple afterwords, appendices, etc.
Profile Image for Martine Delannoy.
62 reviews4 followers
June 1, 2020
This was an easy read and is definitively a "must read" for any futures specialist.
I managed to find a few useful tips for improving my future scenario work.
However the publication from 1997 contains examples that have become very outdated.
Profile Image for Sebastian.
113 reviews11 followers
June 28, 2021
Very good framework and process for making complex, long term, irreversible decisions.

Highlights importance of reading (and writing?) fiction, of imagination and creativity, and building diverse INTELLECTUAL teams.
Profile Image for Abby.
30 reviews
June 15, 2022
Dated (1991) but still worth a read. The scenario methodology is still relevant and useful and it is interesting to see how well the futures (scenarios describing 2005) in the book panned out and why they were right or wrong.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 72 reviews

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