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SCENARIO INCASTING: Four Futures Challenging Leadership
scenarios written by Wendy Schultz and Michele Bowman

Background and instructions:
For the next hour, we will explore scenarios portraying four different possible futures, approximately thirty years from now. YOU HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED ONE OF THESE SCENARIOS. These four scenarios emerge from intercombinations of the possible primary, secondary, and tertiary impacts of emerging issues of change visible today.

In this context, any one of the four scenarios described is possible. DO NOT DISCUSS ITS RELATIVE PLAUSIBILITY OR PROBABILITY; SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF -- a context exists; simply consider how you would cope most successfully. After reading your scenario, address the following discussion questions:

  • what values seem to drive this future? do you find this future challenging to your own values? which ones, and how?
  • what challenges and opportunities does your scenario present to policy-makers, business leaders, and communities?
  • who in your community would gain the greatest advantage in the context of your scenario? who would be marginalized?
  • what "vision" (preferred future) might you try to bring about, given this context?
  • does your scenario require a leader have certain qualifications or a specific knowledge base to lead successfully? would conditions require coordinated leadership by several people with different skills?
  • what skills would most contribute to successful leadership -- that is, organizing transformative change -- in your scenario?

Turf Wars

Corporations and governments that had reaped the greatest benefits of prosperity clung to outmoded and dysfunctional value systems throughout the late 1990's and early twenty-first century. People accustomed to being in command adjusted poorly to collaborative decision-making: the necessity to share participation in both the power and the profit across class and national boundaries.

Ever in the minority, the old profit mongers were the target of the pent-up frustration and anger of millions of workers across the globe. Resentment built, at times unfocussed and wild. The murder of Alan Greenspan in 1999 by a disgruntled manager who had been the victim of corporate downsizing triggered a number of violent outbursts as people turned against not only the wealthy elite, but also against "others:" communities, religions and other racial groups.

Trouble and violence seeped into virtually every major city and disrupted the flow of high technology goods, goods that were necessary to sustain not only economic growth and development but also the little conveniences of life to which people had grown accustomed. Jobs began to disappear. People began to disappear. The high tech luxuries that seemed poised to dominate life in the twenty-first century became unattainable.

People have banded together in small, ethnically-based groups to gain access to the food and natural resources they still need to survive. Though some industry remains viable, much of its output is controlled by loosely organized paramilitary groups. Bill Gates is General of the largest one.

Around the World in Eighty Seconds

From the Komatsu factory in Sioux City, Iowa, to the Deutsche Bank branch in Kuala Lumpur, to crisp, golden McDonald's french fries in Shanghai, the global economy has co-mingled and integrated until consumers see the same thing wherever they go. International markets led companies to tap into the developing world's growing labor force, helping to equalize wages and standards of living across national boundaries.

As food and natural resources seem abundant in the short-term, international relief organizations now focus on issues of "relative poverty," addressing those disadvantaged segments of less-developed countries that are still technologically illiterate. The Internet Relief Fund provides individuals and companies the opportunity to help a technologically disadvantaged person by pledging five dollars a month towards Internet access fees.

The roots of transnational corporations have increasingly intertwined, making it difficult to sort out corporate citizenship from national identity. And as the net worth of the transnationals now exceeds the GDP of most countries, and the amenities offered transnational employees continue to expand, people acknowledge their corporate ID is more valuable than their passport. Even those in small, independent businesses now rely heavily upon outsourcing from, and alliances with, global organizations. Employee ideologies reflect industry-based perspectives more than geographically organized political systems. The rice growers in Alabama and Vietnam collaborate to promote their products, sensing virtually no affinity at all for the steel producers in Mobile or Hanoi a few scant miles away.

Electronically-shared research and development coupled with a continuously operating global transportation system generates a never ending stream of technological innovations, which are manufactured simultaneously at the site of the needed materials. Whatever consumption of the planet takes place is balanced by the occasional environmental technology breakthrough in the endless need to force-feed the global economy.

L'art pour L'art

Developing countries discovered new economic leverage in the sense of "enviropreneurship" at the end of the twentieth century. As more lands and resources were depleted in the industrial countries, their populations finally understood the real cost of their rush for economic supremacy. Consequently, developing countries found new sources of income as a ecotourists and ecology trusts poured money southward.

Ever eager to follow shifts in social values, multinational corporations now implement true cost pricing for their goods and demand that production footprints be made as small as possible. The practice of reverse manufacturing is commonplace as corporate planners design their products with the view that they are merely borrowing the earth's resources and are obligated to return those resources in the most efficient manner possible. More and more new materials are biochemically engineered from renewable resources and designed to degrade into "greenfill" for farms and gardens. Landfills are being reclaimed with nano-fullerene "micro miners" which recover strategic resources efficiently with no disruption to the land. Information technologies enable employees and work cooperatives to disperse jobs throughout habitable territories.

This shift has encouraged many people to become self-sufficient in many of their small produce needs. Emptying high rises have been converted into vertical farms, using solar power to permit year-round food production. With the dispersal of the population, people lost their sense of hyper-urgency and now focus on the more natural rhythms of life. Closing ten deals over lunch became a lost art, while art once again became found. Even Al Gore learned to finger-paint.

Designer Kids R Us

As services to genetically design your children became cheaper and more accessible, the global population started to drop. Initially a service marketed only to the wealthy, global elite, "designer kids" have made future generations smaller in numbers, but vastly more valued - and valuable in their skills and potential. Many adults have also discovered the joys of re-engineering their bodies for different activities and environments. With the help of DNA-altering "cosmetic viruses" the "four hands, no feet" micro-gravity environments of orbital production facilities and pleasure parks are now accessible to all.

People have embraced technology and now enjoy unprecedented freedom from mundane tasks and planning. Political and economic decision-making is handled by specialized "knowbots," cousins of the "intelligent agents" originally designed to filter information from the Internet. Companies, governments and even personal relationships now form and reform in fluid, virtual structures as "cybership" has become more important than citizenship. The development of "Just In Time Corporations" allows workers from different companies to collaborate on projects on an as-needed basis: technical specialists spin out of their work teams at Nikon, DuPont and John Deere to create a Mars rover with which school kids can run remote experiments on Olympus Mons, and then spin off again separately to other work groups. Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Marianas and Japan work together on an agreement of North American plankton farming.

Parents create a different set of "extended family relations" as a unique "village" in which to raise each child they have. The hottest vacation spot around is your own living room lounger, as more and more people take vacations as well as work in virtual reality.

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15 February 2003. Email IF.
Copyright © 2003, Wendy L. Schultz
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