Scenarios and the Military

This is a response in the discussion with @Aelkus about the need for scenarios in military thinking (because really, 140 characters isn’t enough to say what I’d actually like to say, most times).

I absolutely agree that we could instead use some scenario-based exploration of those threats rather than, say, just applying a new term or “new” concept like gray zones to frame those uncertainties.  I would, in fact, like to see some real assumption-targeted foresight in general to explore emerging conflicts of all types.

While the DoD has historically put a lot more energy in total into both guessing and shaping the future than a lot of corporate sector entities, they are, as you say, stuck in an older approach to management.  Part of that is certainly military culture, part of that certainly stems from the ability of large institutions to perpetuate potentially outmoded worldviews past their expiration date, and part of that – at least for the foresight element – stems also from the fact that the “foresight” function, in the form of specific positions in organizations or in the form of funded research, often seems to be assigned to smart, well-intentioned individuals without formal training in fields like futures studies (and in this, they are often very like their business world counterparts) who will soon be moving on to another assignment, or these foresight niches are occupied and defended by established vendors (read: think tanks, consultancies, and the like) who themselves are employing older styles of generating foresight.

This is where we run into the issue, for instance, with the use of scenarios.  What trained futurists more formally refer to as the “axes of uncertainty” approach (or more casually as the “GBN-style” of scenario planning), descends directly from Shell and is an excellent gateway method for organizations and groups new to structured futures thinking.  But, it’s one method out of a continually expanding set of ways to generate alternative futures, and it’s not even the best when it comes to really wanting to map out possibility spaces, and certainly not the best when it comes to the objective of challenging assumptions about change and the future.

And while I agree that the military is stuck in perhaps outmoded management styles, they have in fact been employing GBN-style scenarios for some time.  That’s why I really would like to see more… updated approaches to exploring and reframing the array of uncertainties – both strategic and operational – that the defense community is now confronting.

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