Numbers? Why are they important to narratives about the future?

It's not always easy for people who are more comfortable thinking in a creative way to translate their expensive imagination into digits.

Companies, just like people, make decisions and act on the basis of an agreement of reality.

In short, companies operate through a consensus on the reality of the past and the present, as well as a collective belief in what the future looks like.

This consensus is however, just a story that people buy into.

As a facilitator of futures thinking, my job as a practitioner is to open up the space for organisations to explore multiple alternatives to the single agreed future which is dominant. The value of the work is in the development of mental agility and strategic dexterity that this process gives an organisation.

Storytelling is vital to this process.

Stories are not a position to be held or a demonstration of loyalty or ideological correctness; they are open to creativity and the exploring of the consequences of innovative ideas.

Narratives allow for a kind of freedom that is not normally welcomed within the context of big corporations, where mistakes can cost billions in losses and ruined reputations.

But business executives, engineers and CFOs are numbers people, they tend to enjoy the process of scenario planning and futures thinking, but need to walk away with something more tangible than just some creative ideas.

Numbers please

Which is why scenario quantification is so vital. Translating images of the future into numerical models that make wild, imaginative thinking more of a numbers game is the key to getting the vital buy-in from senior management.

The danger is that the numbers themselves are obviously based on speculation and assumption, so you certainly want the quantitative projections to be regarded with extreme caution.

But the weighted difference in perceived managerial value between strategic work that is just cerebral, and scenario planning projects that are accompanied by a carefully considered numerical lens, is huge.

It's not always easy for people who are more comfortable thinking in a creative way to translate their expansive imagination into digits, but if your hard work is going to effectively resonate with a business-minded audience, it's certainly a skill worth developing.