Changing the Future

Adam Kahane, Transformative Scenario Planning: Working together to change the future, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012

Adam Kahane is a partner in the Massachusetts office of Reos Partners and an Associate Fellow at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. He led the global Scenarios team at Shell, and facilitated the first Transformative Scenario Planning process in South Africa. Over the last two decades he and his colleagues have guided similar processes in several countries. Late last year Kahane launched his most recent book 1, Transformative Scenario Planning, at the Centre for Social Impact as well as running a two-day course on its principles and application.

It may at first seem a strange inclusion in this Knowledge Connect. What does solving tough economic, social, and environmental problems through scenario planning (an approach first used in a large oil multinational) have to do with SQ, purpose and meaning? In an earlier book 2 , Kahane showed how tough problems exhibit three different types of complexity: Social, Generative and Dynamic and that these vary to the extent that this complexity is present either to a low or high degree.  As was suggested in the introduction, given that intelligence is essentially about our ability to solve problems and think about them in different contexts, part of our failure to address tough social problems stems from the dominance of IQ thinking (most suited to social problems with low degrees of complexity). Problems with high social complexity require the application of EQ and SQ 3 (especially problems with high generative and dynamic complexity).

And here lies the beauty of Kahane’s latest book – as his outline of the principles of Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP), is in many ways a process which implicitly relies upon, cultivates and develops SQ in those participating in it. In brief TSP is a five-step process that closely follows the phases outlined in the Theory – U model4  developed by Otto Scharmer. The steps are summarized in Table 4.

Table 4 The Five Steps of Transformative Scenario Planning



1. Co-initiating Convene a team from across the whole system
2. Co-sensing Observe what is happening
3. Co-presencing Construct stories about what could happen
4. Co-creating Discover what can and must be done
5. Co-evolving Act to transform the system

While there is no reference to SQ in Kahane’s book, the TSP approach is replete with most of Zohar and Marshall’s twelve principles of SQ (see Table 2), and is an ideal model of how SQ has actually been applied to the area of social impact and leadership. Recall for example how IQ and EQ work within boundaries while SQ allows us to change the rules and alter situations and boundaries. So too, TSP is not just about getting participants to see what will or should happen but what could happen, it is about shifting the boundaries of the possible. As Kahane says, “you make a judgement about the boundaries of the system you are focusing on and engaging with; you always have the option of also considering developments beyond these boundaries” (p.31). TSP is also underpinned by the principles of holism and systemic thinking; emergence (discovering solutions as you go); collective intuition; reflection; collaboration; spontaneity; diversity as well as self-awareness. Importantly, ‘Transformative Scenario Planning generates tangible and visible changes in the world via subtle, invisible, and nonlinear changes within and among us’ (p.79).

The chapters of the book illustrate each of the five steps with real examples from Kahane’s work in this area and provides a guide for how to apply TSP to our own work. For those who doubt or are skeptical of SQ’s practical application or relevance in achieving beneficial social impact, this is a must read.


1 A video of the book launch is available at
2 Adam Kahane, Solving tough problems – An open way of talking, listening, and creating new realities, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004.
3 Gianni Zappalà, ‘Solving social problems & demonstrating impact: A tale of two typologies’, CSI Briefing Paper No.5, February, 2011.
4 Otto Scharmer, Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.

Post a comment