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Is Scenario Planning still Relevant

Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
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Technological Forecasting & Social Change
Revisiting and extending our understanding of Pierre Wack's the gentle art
of re-perceiving
George Burt
University of Strathclyde, Department of Management, Strathclyde Business School, Room 2.15, 199 Cathedral Street, Glasgow G4 0QU, Scotland, UK
a r t i c l e
i n f o
Article history:
Received 22 March 2010
Received in revised form 19 June 2010
Accepted 21 June 2010
Pierre Wack
‘Set’ of scenarios
Predetermined elements
Re-perceiving reality
a b s t r a c t
Pierre Wack's 1985 Harvard Business Review papers are two of the most frequently referenced
in the scenario planning literature. Wack argued that planning had to be based on the more
predictive elements of the business environment. If not, plans would be based on uncertainty
and a ‘best guess’ basis. Yet there is a lack of subsequent empirical research to investigate Pierre
Wack's contribution. The research findings presented in this paper extend our understanding of
Wack's contribution. We show how social discourse during scenario building helped to make
sense and reveal the significance of historical events. These historical events were seen, but not
previously understood; consequently a new understanding of reality emerged. The findings are
in contrast to Wack's explanation of re-perceiving and extend our understanding of the basis of
re-perceiving with scenarios.
© 2010 Published by Elsevier Inc.
1. Introduction
Exploring and understanding uncertainty in the business environment are a key element of the (intuitive-logics) scenario
planning and futures studies literature [1–5]. Uncertainty can be understood as “an individual's perceived inability to predict
something accurately” [4, p 136]. Its importance is derived from the concern about organizational fit and adaptation [6–10]. Fit and
adaptation are supported through the identification of predetermined elements in the business environment [2,3]. Wack argued
that planning had to be based on the more predictive elements of the business environment. If not, plans would be based on
uncertainty and a best guess basis. For this reason scenario planning has grown in importance as an approach to explore and
understand uncertainty [10].
Yet, within the scenario planning literature there is confusion on the role of scenario planning [11,12]. By looking closely at the
evolution of the literature it is possible to derive a range of views on the role of scenario planning. These views range from
scenarios-as-grounded speculation to scenarios-as-organizational learning to scenarios-as-sense-making and becoming. The
confusion in the literature between these views does not help managers when they experience “increased volatility in the business
environment [6, p 491]”!! Each of these views will be elaborated in the next section.
The confusion in the literature suggests that the theoretical and practical importance and understanding of predetermined
elements and the gentle art of re-perceiving may be over-looked in the literature. Therefore, it is now appropriate to re-examine
these important constructs. This paper examines Wack's contribution by first discussing the ontological and epistemological
nature of the environment. The discussion sheds some light on the confusion between the speculation and organizational learning
views. This paper identifies that the intuitive-logics scenario planning literature has been dominated by methodological
developments (post-Wack). Yet, at the same time there are calls in the literature to understand better how it can contribute to the
strategic management of organizations [11]. Many of those contributions acknowledge Wack and seek to gain legitimacy through
such association. This paper synthesizes and integrates Wack's ideas to develop an overarching framework that was implicit in his
E-mail address: burt@gsb.strath.ac.uk.
0040-1625/$ – see front matter © 2010 Published by Elsevier Inc.
G. Burt / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
papers. The lack of understanding about such integration may provide one explanation as to why Wack's ideas have not been
developed further in the literature.
The goal of this paper is to determine if Wack's ideas are still relevant. The contribution of this paper is a new and extended
explanation of the gentle art of re-perceiving. This will be achieved by empirically-derived evidence. The contribution will be in
three areas. First, we will shed light on the role of a ‘set’ of scenarios to develop a ‘macroscopic’ view of the business environment.
Second, we will show how the process of social discourse during scenario building helped to identify historical actions, that were
seen but not previously recognized, were pushing for a predetermined element. Third, we will show how the scenario process
brought about the re-perceiving of reality. All are central to the success of scenario planning work.
The remainder of this paper is organized in five parts. The next section briefly reviews the scenario planning literature postWack, including an elaboration of Wack's principles. The third section treats research methodology and case setting. The fourth
section provides an empirical elaboration of Wack's three principles. The fifth section discusses the significance of the empirical
evidence with regard to the gentle art of re-perceiving. Finally conclusions are drawn including possible future research
2. The organization–environment relationship, literature evolution, and Pierre Wack
2.1. The organization–environment relationship
The organization–environment relationship is a central area for researchers interested in long-term strategic planning and
thinking, with the primary aim to help the organization maintain fit with its environment [8]. Maintaining fit is based on a
teleological perspective [13] set within a critical realist paradigm [14]. The relationship is of particular interest to those researching
scenario planning and futures studies [15,16]. Research on scenario planning is predominately within this paradigm [14].
2.2. Evolution of scenario literature
The French and American origins of scenario planning, influences and differences between scenario planning are discussed in
detail in this special edition (see Godet, Godet and Durance, and Durance). This paper acknowledges the lasting contribution of all
of these foundations that have been fundamental to the development of scenario planning.
The evolution of the (intuitive-logics) scenario planning literature can be organized into three distinct views. The first view:
‘scenarios-as-grounded speculation’ is based on the work of Kahn [17], Kahn and Wiener [18] and Toffler [19]. The speculative
view suggests that “scenario planning is a disciplined method for imagining possible futures [20, p 25]” and that “scenarios ... are a
special category of thought experiments and as such they deal with the domain of the possible and probable i.e. with the world of
speculation [21, p 815]”. This view is concerned with ‘thinking the unthinkable’ to challenge established (and institutionalized)
thinking, and is still evident in the literature [21]. The second view: ‘scenarios-as-organizational learning’ is based on in-depth
analysis of systems and systemic structures [22,23]. Organizational learning is important as “management must be able to
recognise and interpret external events so that any major shifts in the environment which make current strategies vulnerable are
anticipated and possible outcomes formulated [24, p 173]”. It is due to the dominance of this view in the literature that prompts
the re-examination of the ‘gentle art of re-perceiving’. The third view: ‘scenarios-as-sense-making and becoming’ has emerged
recently. It considers the environment to be in a continual process of enfolding and unfolding [25–27]. It is through the social
construction and sense-making processes that environment comes into being [28].
3. Elaboration of Wack's ‘the gentle art of re-perceiving’
Wack is credited in many sources as being one of the early contributors of the growth in the intuitive-logics scenario planning
approach [12]. His two papers being among the most frequently referenced publications. In these two papers, Wack discussed the
problems and challenges of developing relevant scenarios; the role of detailed analysis to reveal the (often hidden) systemic
structures and driving forces that create predetermined elements. His goal was to change managerial mindsets. He called it ‘the
gentle art of re-perceiving’ [2,3,29]. By synthesizing Wack's two papers, it is possible to conceptualise a framework for scenario
planning based on three principles. These three principles are intrinsically linked to one another. It is argued here that the
framework is a process designed to support how a manager perceives, interprets and understands the changing business
environment. New interpretation should lead to new understanding and acting. Each principle is now elaborated.
3.1. Principle 1 — the macroscope
The first of the three principles is the “macroscope”, a metaphor to bring out the idea of the wider, complex inter-connected
system in which an organization exists [30]. The bigger system contains driving forces, as well as temporal, sequential, processual
and reverse causality effects, which combine to create systemic structures and relationships driving change. The idea behind the
“macroscope” (from macro — great, and skopein — to observe) is to help and encourage people to explore their environment over a
wider area than they would normally undertake [30]. Wack developed de Rosnay's idea of the macroscope in the context of
scenario planning. Wack was arguing that it is important to acknowledge and understand the bigger system within which an
organization exists otherwise problem-solving would be reactive and event-based.
G. Burt / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
3.2. Principle 2 — predetermined elements
Wack argued that it was ultimately possible to identify predetermined elements in the business environment. Predetermined
elements are driving forces pushing for outcomes that are systemically inevitable although their timing and consequences may not
be known fully [2,3]. Predetermined elements could be determined as arising from:
• events that are in the pipeline and will emerge in time;
• inter-related actions pushing for a particular outcome; and/or
• inertial forces within the system which are slow to change.
3.3. Principle 3 — change in mindset
The purpose of the first two principles is the development of new understanding of the business environment that leads to
change in managerial mindsets. If no ‘impact’ arose from scenario planning then management would continue in their business-asusual ways. The implication being that business plans would be underpinned by yesterday's (unreliable) assumptions. However,
Wack (and others) recognized that there were significant barriers to overcome. Barriers such as: managerial recipes and industry
recipes [31,32]. Recipes are professional knowledge based on common experiences from which a set of beliefs and some rules of
thumb are developed. Over time they become habitualized and institutionalized. Once institutionalized these recipes guide
managerial thinking and acting by determining (and limiting) ‘what is for us’ and ‘what is not for us’.
To counter this situation, Wack argued that scenarios help managers gain a fresh perspective about the interplay between
factors, actors and variables in the business environment. Assumptions would be challenged by exposing new, and previously
unrecognized driving forces. They were previously either not ‘seen’ (that is, hidden) or were seen and not understood clearly.
Emergent insights would fundamentally challenge the legitimacy of their existing assumptions, which had been the basis of
planning in the past. By deriving a new understanding, managers would be able to better understand the inevitable drivers of
change and plan accordingly.
4. Subsequent developments in the literature
Following Wack, there have been many methodological advances in the literature. Although these contributions cite Wack as a
key reference, they have not challenged or developed his ideas. Some of the key methodological advances include linking scenarios
to investment risk and return on capital [33]; reinventing planning as learning with scenarios to move towards a processual
perspective [34]; the process of and steps to link scenario planning and organizational learning [35]; integrating scenarios and
strategy to develop a more holistic planning approach [36]; internal consistency of scenarios based on three requirements: trend
consistency, outcome consistency and stakeholder consistency [37]; overcoming heuristic biases with scenarios to improve
Table 1
Evolution of scenario planning methodology.
Methodological contribution and explanation
Predetermined elements
Concern that planning is based on out-of-date and habituated assumptions; need to distinguish
between uncertainty and predetermined elements to bring more certainty to business plans;
re-perceiving worldviews.
Testing strategic investments for investment risk and corporate return using scenarios analysis.
Challenge to the dominant forecasting approach to business planning; more emphasis to be
placed on making plans dynamic and adaptable.
New approach to integrate key aspects of business planning including strategic vision, competitive analysis; scenario
planning; and strategic options as an ongoing cycle of planning.
Differentiating global, decision and local scenarios and the link to local business plans.
[2], [3]
Concerns over the reliance and plausibility of scenarios by differentiating three elements of internal
consistency: trend, stakeholder and outcome.
Consideration of heuristic biases in decision-making and how scenarios can help overcome such biases.
Risk and return
Planning as learning
Scenarios as organizational
Linking scenarios and
Internal consistency
Decision making and
Disciplined imagination
The process of creating scenarios and linking them to core competencies to generate strategic options.
Wild cards and weak signals Sudden and unexpected events are introduced to map out unexpected trends or movements, to help
identify potential weak signals.
Paradoxical trends
Widening the understanding of types of trends and their implications for building scenarios.
Weak signals and peripheral Scanning to notice events that may offer insights into strategic opportunities or the first sign of
Simulation and modelling of The development of simulation and dynamic modelling to explain systemic structures in scenarios
and within scenarios
Systems modelling
Introduction of feedback loops, behavior-over-time graphs and influence diagrams to describe dynamic systemic
G. Burt / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
decision-making [38,39]; a process to link scenarios and strategic options [37]; identifying wild cards and weak signals in scenarios
[40]; identifying paradoxical trends in scenarios [41]; weak singles and peripheral vision [42]; simulation and modelling [43]; and
integrating systems methods with scenarios [44,45] (see Table 1 below).
A number of questions arise from this discussion of the literature. Is it only through detailed systems analysis that
predetermined elements can be identified? Is there an alternative way that scenarios help to identify predetermined elements?
How do scenarios help managers re-perceive reality? These questions will be explored below.
5. Research methods, case study and scenario planning
This section describes the research design and field methods to address the above questions. There is also a discussion of the
scenario planning intervention.
5.1. Research design
The research objective was to undertake exploratory research [46] as there is a lack of empirical evidence to challenge or
develop Wack's ideas. The exploratory research was undertaken with the agreement of the case study management as they
experimented with scenario planning for the first time as part of their approach to strategic management. The research design was
influenced by the aim of developing a rich understanding of the intricacies of the intervention as it unfolded in both a temporal and
contextual manner [47]. The research design allowed the researcher intimate proximity to study the impact of the intervention
[48]. A longitudinal research project was undertaken and it lasted eighteen months.
5.2. Research field methods
The researcher was allowed unrestricted access to people and organizational information. Longitudinal data was gathered in
two categories. First, observing the behavior of participants as an outsider. The participants consisted of the full management team
including managing director, operations director, financial director, human resources director, sales director, operations manager,
quality manager, and the sales and marketing manager. Second, access to documentary information including annual reports,
business plans and business cases were provided by the case study organization.
In the first category, both verbal and non-verbal during and after the intervention workshops was gathered. There were five
workshops in total. Four of the five workshops lasted one day; the other workshop lasted two days (see below for a discussion on
the nature of workshops). The workshops occurred in the first four months of the research project. The researcher tracked the
impact of the intervention over the next fourteen months. In addition, multiple data gathering methods were designed and
adopted throughout the duration of the field work. These multiple data gathering methods included interviews with each member
of the management team. Interviews were conducted before the start of and at the conclusion of the intervention. A total of sixteen
interviews were recorded verbatim in the field diaries. Observational notes were written in the field diaries throughout all of the
workshops [49]. Workshop input and outputs were captured and recorded in the field diaries. Critical incidents that occurred
during the workshops were recorded in the field diaries [50]. Meetings were held every month throughout the intervention with
key informants [51]. Meeting notes were recorded in the field books. Collaborative inquiry [52,53] in the form of member checks
[54] to explore the emergent findings with participants were also recorded in the field diaries.
The raw field data was recorded in four research field diaries by the researcher [49,55]. The research field diaries ran to a total of
380 pages. There were 120 critical incidents. Reflective notes were developed and added as a running commentary on the
unfolding impact of the intervention [55]. There were 140 reflective notes. This raw field data was transcribed fully and collated
into a research database. Coding was based on searching for and identifying grounded categories. There were 260 coded entries in
the research database. These coded entries were the basis of inductive data analysis [56,57]. The empirical findings are presented
However, before discussing the empirical findings, the intervention approach and the case study organization are discussed. By
providing this overview of the case study organization it is intended to help the reader to understand their context and business
activities, the goals and aspirations of the management, the bases of organizational success, and the challenges that they faced at
that time of the research project.
5.3. The scenario planning intervention
As noted above, the application of the scenario methodology in the case study was based on a number of ‘action learning
workshops’ where the participants worked together on problems that they defined [58,59]. The workshops were derived from
existing scenario methodology [10,60]. A brief description of each workshop and workshop objective is now provided:
• workshop 1 — interview feedback, and development and agreement of the scenario agenda (by the case management team);
• workshop 2 — discussion of issues in the scenario agenda (including outsiders), scenario building and sense-making through
multiple plausible futures (created by the case management team);
• workshop 3 — articulation of the strategic implications of the scenarios and development of optional responses in the form of
possible strategic options (by the case management team);
G. Burt / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
• workshop 4 — development and refinement of the logic of the strategic proposals; and
• workshop 5 — development of a presentation of the emergent business case (by the case management team).
The workshops were facilitated by an expert in scenario planning.
5.4. Case study organization: international spirits and drinks producer
The case study organization belongs to a wider international drinks group, involved in producing and supplying Scotch whisky
and other spirits. Within the portfolio of products the group holds one of the United Kingdom's leading blended whisky brands, as
well as many of the world's leading malt whisky brands. The case organization's specific activities included blending and bottling
whisky, as well as bottling other spirits. The group structure resulted in the case study organization having close relationships with
other parts of the group.
The basis of success of the case organization was defined at the outset of the intervention. It was articulated by the
management team as: “efficiency in whisky production from economies of scale (maximising throughput) to produce a low unit
cost to provide profits and funds for use elsewhere in the group” (Operations Director). Their distinctive competencies were seen
to be: “focus on bottling and blending that makes us the industry benchmark for productivity in the midstream operations”
(Operations Director). The generally accepted definition of their business landscape was based on a three-tier structure: “raw
materials, blending and bottling, and brand management” (Managing Director and Operations Director).
The strategic challenges articulated by the case management at the outset of the intervention were: “a focus on international
expansion to countries such as China, Korea, Russia and India (to increase production throughput by 25% per annum)” (Managing
Director, Operations Director and Sales and Marketing Director).
6. Empirical exploration of Wack's three principles
This section is an empirical exploration of Wack's three principles that allows us to address the above research questions. A
brief synopsis of the ‘set’ of scenarios that the case management team developed is provided first. This is followed by a discussion
of the ‘macroscope’ arising from the scenarios, including the identification of what was (at that time) unfolding as a predetermined
element. The limitations of the case management team's assumptions will also be highlighted and discussed. Finally, the interconnected relationship between the three principles will be explored to develop and extend the ‘gentle art of re-perceiving’.
6.1. Synopsis of the scenarios
The case study management team developed set of three scenarios: Producer World, Distributor World and Provider World. The
Producer World scenario described a situation of increased global demand for whisky, resulting in a dominant position in the
international drink industry for whisky producers. This scenario can be understood as management's normative scenario. However,
such a situation was not possible due to industry-wide moth-balled plant and excess capacity in existing operational facilities.
The Distributor World scenario described a situation of recession and decline in demand for whisky. Sales of whisky were
predominately low-value products. With the decline in demand for whisky, the supermarkets exerted their power over the supply
chain, including the whisky producers. As the supermarkets controlled 65% of drinks retail sales (in the UK) they were in a position
to determine which whisky products were allocated shelf-space and at what price.
The Provider World scenario described a situation where technological development enabled new ways of communication
between business organizations and business organizations (B2B) and business organizations and consumers (B2C). In this world a
new type of player emerged in the industry—lifestyle providers. Examples of such lifestyle providers included: Visa, Virgin, Tesco, and
Amazon. They responded to the opportunity provided by technological developments by broadening brand image from specific drinks
(including whisky) into broader lifestyle images. Market forces gradually subordinated the identity of Scotch whisky as a product to
more general lifestyle symbols controlled by the lifestyle providers. We will now explore each of the three principles.
6.2. Empirical evidence: principle 1 — the ‘macroscope’ view
The scenario process enabled the management team to share their perceptions about elements of their wider, inter-connected
environment, understand the interrelationships, and interaction of these elements. By building a ‘set’ of scenario stories they were
able to conceptualise those elements into a relevant and meaningful system.
An example of their emergent understanding is evident from the following comment:
“With static demand, the distributor is all powerful, the distributor owns the consumer. The whisky industry has
accelerated this situation; other drivers in the whole industry are creating a positive feedback loop of control for the
distributor. This will lead to one EU distributor. We are beginning to see a trend emerge, for example, Intermarché taking
over Thomson in France. The distributor is creating a monopoly situation.” (Operations director)
This is evidence of the case management team identifying and connecting temporal and spatial developments in adjacent
geographies. The ‘macroscope’ view enabled them to see the driving forces that were impacting the international spirits and drinks
G. Burt / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
industry. Their insights revealed that the key element of control held by the industry was changing from the historical domination
of ‘precious scotch’ (producers) to technological and physical control over access to market (retailers) and technological control
over the supply chain (retailers and distributors). Both would impact demand for and supply of whisky (and other spirit) products.
Table 2 provides a summary of the macroscope view.
6.3. Empirical evidence: Principle 2—the identification of predetermined elements
The case management team recognized a number of inter-connected historical events that had occurred, their significance and
consequences for control over the industry supply chain now became evident, including:
• control of market access by supermarkets through shelf-space, as 65% of spirits were sold (in the UK) at supermarkets;
• supermarkets exploiting past investment in information and communication technologies (ICT) and customer relationship
management systems (CRM) to build customer loyalty to the supermarket, rather than to a brand / product;
• supermarkets applying ICT to control supply chain through centralised logistics and distribution centers;
• supermarkets as competitors through buyers-own-brands (BOBs) whisky and other spirits;
• historical over-production of whisky (known in the industry as “whisky lochs”); and
• growth of technology-driven lifestyle providers such as Visa, Virgin, Tesco and Amazon.
The extent of supermarket control became clear to the case management team as is evident from their sense-making
“I am depressed! We are being stuffed [ed. screwed] by our customers. We are locked into the risk of the customers.”
(Managing director)
“We are absorbing suppliers and customers risk. Supplier risk arises from us holding large stocks of empty bottles, labels,
packages and bottle caps. We pay for these stocks before they have been used in the production process.” (Managing
“We give value; create value for others, why? We take a product and create value in the process, for little reward.”
(Operations director)
The implications for the case study organization were becoming evident:
“Internally we can be as efficient as we wish, but if we don't control upstream and downstream logistics we will be unable
to provide an efficient and low cost service, as other actors are positioning themselves to gain such control.” (Operations
These historical developments had resulted in the case organization being “squeezed” in the industry supply chain. Being
“squeezed” by supermarkets through their application of ICT to gain control of the supply chain and block access to consumers and
market information. Information about consumer demand and buying patterns rather than the importance of “precious scotch”
had emerged as the future basis of success. As a consequence of the supermarkets exploiting ICT to gain control over the supply
chain risk had passed to the whisky producer.
The situation would be acerbated by in the future with the growth of lifestyle providers. Lifestyle providers were increasingly
exploiting ICT to try to gain power over the supply chain. Table 3 below provides a summary of the predetermined elements that
6.4. Empirical evidence: principle 3 — change in mindset or ‘the gentle art of re-perceiving’
So did assumptions and belief systems of the case management team change? If so, how did they change? The gentle art of reperceiving was eluded to only very briefly at the conclusion of the two Wack papers. This paper provides a new empirical-derived
Table 2
Summary of the ‘macroscope’.
Producer Distributor world
Macroscope Precious
Power of the supermarkets through the application of information and
communication technologies in logistics and distribution to control the supply
chain and downstream access to markets
Provider world
Role of lifestyle providers to reconfigure
traditional market structures and overcome
brand loyalty
G. Burt / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
Table 3
Predetermined elements.
Key principle
Producer world
Predetermined element —
inter-related actions
pushing for a particular
Case study organization
Close to the
proximity to the market customer but
remote from
Distributor world
Provider world
Application of information and communication
technologies by the supermarkets to gain power in
supply chain and control access to markets and
overcome brand loyalty
Remote from markets and consumers
Application of information and communication
technologies by lifestyle providers to control access
to markets and overcome whisky brand loyalty
Remote from markets and consumers
As noted earlier, the management in the case study held an accepted definition of their business environment: raw materials,
blending and bottling, and brand management as three separate activities. Their definition was based on (whisky) production
efficiency as the basis of success. The re-perceived definition of their business environment was: production and customer
relationships as two integrated activities. The re-perceived definition was derived from a combination of understanding risk in
supply chain, the lack of market information on demand and buying patterns, and the growing power of customers
(supermarkets) to control access to markets (consumers). The basis of power in the supply chain had changed. Change in the basis
of power in the supply chain would make consistent production for low cost impossible. For the case study management regaining
control of the supply chain was essential to compete economically in the future. The challenge was to find an appropriate response.
7. Discussion
To aid the elaboration of the empirical evidence and consider the significance of the theory presented above, two areas are
discussed to address the research questions posed earlier. The first is on the role of predetermined elements in re-perceiving. The
second is on frames of reference and re-perceiving with scenarios.
7.1. The role of predetermined elements in re-perceiving
It is argued in this paper that predetermined elements are fundamental to re-perceiving. Here predetermined elements were
identified by through social discourse. Understanding was based on the (at that time hidden) systemic structures created from
historical actions of key actors. These systemic structures surrounded the case study organization. They had either not been
perceived previously or perceived but not understood. The challenge was to make the hidden, visible and the knowable, known
and understandable.
The empirical evidence makes it clear that Wack's ideas are still relevant. For example, for the case study organization,
historical ICT developments were driving on-line, real-time information flows within the supply chain. The investment in systems,
structures and processes created the opportunity for one organization to gain control over the supply chain. Systems, structures
and processes were facilitating systemic lock-in. Investment in retailing logistics and distribution, through electronic order to
fulfilment systems resulted in supply chain control by the supermarkets. Such systems had re-configured supply chain risk,
moving risk from customers to producers who had to produce products either to fulfil customer orders at short-notice or to hold as
stock. Fulfilling customer orders at short-notice made production scheduling and the achievement of economies of scale
problematic for the case organization. In addition, production-for-stock tied up working capital, resulting in the whisky producer
financing future customer orders. Both of these activities made it problematic for the whisky producer to achieve its goal of low
unit cost then or in the future.
This understanding helped the management team redefine the basis of success in their industry, from the three separate
activities of raw materials, blending and bottling and brand management to production and customer relationships as one
integrated activity. For them, the boundary of the relationship with customers needed to be extended to include the customer's
customer (the consumer of the whisky). Prior to developing their change proposals the whisky producer did not have access to
consumer information and therefore could not determine which products were demanded in which markets or when.
7.2. Frames of reference and re-perceiving
The three-tier structure was their frame of reference to perceive and understand events. A frame of reference is the context,
point of view, set of presuppositions, assumptions, evaluative criteria in so far as they form a cognitive system with which a person
perceives, judges or selectively constrains a course of actions or outcome thereof [61]. Re-perceiving is defined as the means to
change the conceptual and / or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in
another frame that fits the facts of the same concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changes its entire meaning
The ‘set’ of scenarios — the Producer World, The Distributor World and the Provider World provided a challenge to their frame
of reference. It became clear to the management team that the key to success in the future would not be based on the historical
dominance of ‘precious scotch’. The ‘set’ of scenarios revealed that a new emergent phenomenon, ICT to control the supply chain
G. Burt / Technological Forecasting & Social Change 77 (2010) 1476–1484
and provide access to markets, would be the basis of success in the future. With this view of their business environment, the
management team could re-perceive the reality that surrounded them.
Their previously stated aspiration of “increase production throughput by 25% per annum, with a focus on international
expansion to countries such as China, Korea, Russia and India” could now be understood as a solution to the wrong problem. They
had agreed that greater volumes would help them solve their current challenges. However, increasing volumes was now
understood to be a response to the problem of organizing production and scheduling arising from supply chain pressures. The
(real) problem of the role of ICT to exert power to control the supply chain and control access to markets had become evident to
them. The re-perceived view illuminated what they could see but had not (yet) understood.
8. Conclusion
This article set out to consider the legacy and relevance of Pierre Wack by undertaking research to explore that gentle art of reperceiving. This paper synthesized Wack's ideas, making it possible to derive three integrated principles — the ‘macroscope’,
predetermined elements, and re-perceiving. From the empirical evidence the ‘set’ of scenarios acted as their ‘macroscope’. This
helped the case management team see and understand their wider business environment. By developing such a ‘macroscopic’
view they were able to identify what would be predetermined in the future: the decline of the ‘precious scotch’ with the
emergence of the retailers as the dominant force in the supply chain.
In Wack's two papers, he introduced his idea of predetermined elements, which he proposed were discovered by detailed
systems research and analysis. This paper proposes an alternative approach. The scenario process created a social process to
develop a coherent and shared understanding of their experiences. The ‘set’ of scenarios provided a rich topographic explanation
of those experiences. The ‘set’ of scenarios helped them represent the factors and actors that were driving the predetermined
element. For them, the ‘set’ of scenarios depicted the movement over time of the basis of success from ‘precious scotch’ to the third
party control of the industry supply chain. Such power would be exerted through the application of ICTs. This new understanding
challenged the case management team's assumptions. Once they grasped the significance of the story that they were telling
themselves, they were able to derive a new frame of reference to re-perceive their business environment.
This paper extends Wack's ideas by providing a new, detailed empirically-derived explanation of the social process of reperceiving. Scenarios are an artefact of that process. This paper has implications for theory and practice. For theory, the concept of
predetermined elements becomes a critical element in explaining the contribution of scenario planning to futures studies (and
strategic management). It is argued here that identifying predetermined elements is central to the success or otherwise of scenario
planning projects.
For practitioners, the concept of predetermined elements becomes a central outcome to judge scenario projects. If
predetermined elements are ignored there is a significant risk that the outcome will be scenarios-as-speculation. Interesting as
these may be, they may not be purposeful and not help the users of scenario planning.
Several new research questions emerge from this ideas presented in this paper. First, do the findings of the research have
resonance in other settings? Second, how can we better understand the micro processes of sense-making in more detail? These
questions provide rich opportunities to study and understand the role of scenario planning in the future.
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Dr George Burt is a senior lecturer in strategic management in the Department of Management, University of Strathclyde Business School. George Burt was
awarded his PhD in 2002. His research interests are in the environment–organization relationship and the role of scenario planning as a facilitator of change. He
has extensive consultancy experience, specialising in the application of the scenario methodology. He is co-author of the book “The Sixth Sense: Accelerating
Organizational Learning with Scenarios” published by John Wiley & Sons.