Podcast: COVID-19 scenario planning and getting ahead of disruption

In this episode of Future of Consumption, we discuss how to minimise the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic through scenario planning.
24 April 2020
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J Walker Smith
Walker Smith

Knowledge Lead, North America

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Host J. Walker Smith speaks with Kantar experts Don Abraham, Senior Partner and Futures practice thought-leader, and Wayne Pan, Associate Director in the Futures practice, about minimizing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic through scenario planning; in particular, using specific scenarios developed by Kantar that are freely available for companies to build plans reflecting the contingencies of the the outbreak, institutional reactions and consumer responses.



There is a meme going around now that futures consultants who use scenario planning to help companies are the first responders of business planning during the coronavirus pandemic. Nothing could be more true for brands and businesses trying to navigate the uncertainty of this high-stakes moment in the marketplace.

My podcast conversation with Kantar thought-leaders Don Abraham, Senior Partner and leader of our Futures practice, and Wayne Pan, Associate Director and a consultant within our Futures practice, dug into the reasons why scenario planning is so critical for companies right now — it’s the uncertainty. This may not seem like anything new. After all, businesses deal with uncertainty during normal times. But there are different kinds of uncertainty. What companies are facing now is discontinuous uncertainty.

Anticipating the future is rooted in a paradox. We make an unstated assumption in our forecasting that the future won’t be so different from today that what we know today will be completely irrelevant to the future. There has to be some continuity of underlying conditions; otherwise, the future is an unfathomable black hole into which we have no visibility whatsoever. Certainly, we must build change into our forecasts, but we are assuming that such change will be recognizable. That’s the paradox of forecasting. Even when we assume change, we are also assuming continuity.

But that doesn’t help now because we can no longer presume continuity. What we are facing is discontinuous uncertainty — conditions that are outside expectations or normal contingencies. In these circumstances, we have to do a different kind of planning. That’s what scenario planning is all about, and that’s why scenario planning is almost a fundamental requirement for any business right now.

Scenarios are ways of narrating the story of the business. The idea of storytelling has been a business fad for many years, but behind the fluff is a fundamental truth. Stories are the ways in which people make sense of the world, business leaders no less than anyone else. Commerce is a lot of number-crunching but the concept at the heart of any value proposition is a vision — a story of the marketplace. It is this story that has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Companies can’t make sense of the marketplace any longer because they’ve lost the narrative of their business story.

That’s what scenarios provide. They make sense of the future by offering business leaders a story that fits the reality ahead. This is the fundamental requirement for getting back on track. No business can succeed without a compelling narrative of the marketplace at the heart of its value proposition. At this moment in time, more than anything else, that’s what companies need if they are to move forward and thrive in the post-pandemic economy.

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