Objective and subjective scenario planning

Stewart Brand and Jay Ogilvy, two of five co-founders of scenario planning consultancy Global Business Network, describe very different views on objectivity and subjectivity.

Brand, from Clock of the Long Now: Time And Responsibility: The Ideas Behind The World’s Slowest Computer (1999):

I think it is time to draw a harsh distinction, similar to that drawn between science and “scientism” (the style of science without its substance). There is a domain of future studies, rigorous and objective, and another that is essentially “futurism” — a belief in structure, often highly subjective. There are futurists, like [Peter] Drucker, and there are those who pretend to be futurists: futurismists, exuding futurismo. …

The core fallacy of futurismo is: Desire always misreads fate.

Ogilvy replies in Creating Better Futures: Scenario Planning as a Tool for a Better Tomorrow (2002):

A colleague, Stewart Brand, is fond of quoting Bernal’s line, “Desire always misreads fate.” I persistently disagree. Desire, or a vivid sense of hope, can create what comes to be called fate. To think otherwise is to resign oneself to a predetermined future. Play up fate and you play down planning. Planning presupposes freedom and refutes the very idea of destiny. …

There is, consequently, a constant danger of bad faith in the work of most futurists. Eager to escape the charge of subjective bias, of claiming that what we want to happen will in fact happen, we do everything we can to make sure that our scenarios of what will happen have been scourged of every relic of what we ourselves might want to happen. I call this bad faith, but not because I think we are unsuccessful in scourging our hopes. I call it bad faith to the extent that we are successful. To the extent that we mimic scientists in claiming value-free objectivity in our view of the future, we deny the very thing that makes us good human beings and good futurists. …

The claim to objectivity turns out to be compromised in any case, if reports form the other human sciences are to be believed.

See also: Adam Kahane’s whole system transformation.

Leave a Comment