Futures Strategy: Taking It to the Next Level
Imagining the Future in Order to Plan for Risk Today
In September 2008, Board Advisory Services once again teamed with Collective Intelligence and Futures Strategy Group for a workshop that focused on scenario planning. Hosted by the Institute for Internal Auditors (IIA), the workshop built on an introductory workshop the team had conducted for the IIA in January 2008, in which auditors learned to think rationally about non-traditional risks in a range of business environments.
“Today’s business environment is so unpredictable that it prevents us from using the past as guide for the types of risks we will face tomorrow,” said Anne Simmons, CEO of Board Advisory Services. “Auditors are on brand-new ground. They need to look forward; to imagine what the work scenarios and risks may be in the future, so that they can begin to plan for them today.”
Participants in September’s event worked in small groups, brainstorming appropriate audit functions for richly imagined (though entirely plausible) scenarios that may take place in the year 2025. The day concluded with a plenary session in which the ideas of each group were discussed, assessed and compared, and left only the strongest most versatile ideas standing. The future-forward exercise armed the participants with real-world recommendations to take back to their organizations.
Participant feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Said one IIA member, “There was profit in looking into the future first, then back to the present to come up with strategies. It was a lot of fun, as well as an education. The speakers were excellent."
Participants were engaged by "The whole concept of contemplating different and even hard-to-imagine scenarios." In particular, "Ideas related to managing the workforce of a future world that works remotely—and how to influence management—were enlightening." That sentiment was echoed by another participant who remarked, "Everything discussed was so relevant to the real world. It forced the participants to really think in a short period of time." Said another, the day was "An opportunity to think intellectually and creatively about our collective future. Very thought provoking."
“Our big idea is that for non-traditional risks, traditional control function activities and evaluation criteria may well create a false sense of rigor. Historically traditional control functions have been designed to measure the present and make choices about the future by making reference to the past,” said Anne Simmons. "We know the future is full of unpredictable risks. We just can't say today what the risks we'll face ten years from now will be. But we can train ourselves to think flexibly by imagining what can be. Doing so will teach us to read—and respond to—the warning signs of risk. Adaptation is crucial for auditors, because the past isn’t necessarily a guide to future risk."
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