Published by EH.Net and H-Business (August 2002)
James A. Ogilvy, Creating Better Futures: Scenario Planning as a Tool for a
Better Tomorrow. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2002. xvi +
238 pp. $35 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-19-514611-5.
Reviewed for EH.Net and H-Business by Allen L. Bures, Professor and Chair,
Department of Management and Marketing, Radford University, Radford, Virginia.
Drawing upon his numerous years of experience in both academia and the private
sector, James Ogilvy developed a sense of how businesses work best and a
passion for changing the world. In Creating Better Futures, he provides
a set of tools that, he argues, we need in order to create better communities,
better health, better education, better lives.
Dr. Ogilvy, the philosopher/social researcher/corporate consultant, argues that
self-defined communities, rather than individuals or governments, have become
the primary agents for social change. Towns, professional associations, and
interest groups of all kinds can help shape the future in the ways that matter
most. The key to effective change is scenario planning — a process that draws
on groups of people, both lay and expert, to draft narratives that spell out
possible futures — some to avoid, some inspiring hope. Scenario planning has
been effectively utilized to aid both public and private planning exercises,
leading to more diverse product lines in such areas as the automobile industry
and to timely public planning projects.
“The future could be better than the present” is the first sentence Ogilvy
delivers before he then asserts “the future should be better than the present.”
As the 238 pages comprising 13 chapters unfold, the essential argument develops
and matures: we need fresh new paradigms in our search for “better”; we need a
variety of ethical perspectives to help us determine what constitutes “better”;
and we need to develop scenarios to enable us to explore implementations and
strategies to achieve those “better” futures.
Ogilvy’s book is based on a trinity of a relational world view, ethical
pluralism, and scenario planning. The first pillar, what he calls a relational
world view, is grounded not in the old world view of religious or scientific
certainness which told us how to make sense out of the world, but rather a
“relational world view” which instead focuses on our relation to the world.
Making sense depends on interaction with the world. In this way we become
active participants in constructing our world views and not the persuasive
reactors of “clear” one true way to see the world.
The second pillar is ethical pluralism, viewed as that which is good or right
changes from place to place and over time. This does not mean that anything
goes, nor that ethical standards are mere whims. Rather, ethical standards need
to be well thought out and consistent. So, ethical pluralism really says that
there are genuine, principled alternative standards of right and wrong.
The third pillar on which the book is based is scenario planning. Here Ogilvy
argues that the use of scenario planning is one of the best tools for drawing
out and discovering the real choices we face in seeking better futures.
Scenario planning, it is argued, allows us to integrate the technical expertise
of the specialists and the values of ordinary citizens to create futures that
reflect the shared hopes of communities. This is the key thrust of the book.
The first part of the book argues and attempts to justify the three pillars.
The middle part of the book uses in-depth critical analyses to argue for their
use more precisely, while the last portion of the manuscript demonstrates how
scenario planning may be used for such complex issues as health care and
Creating Better Futures does an excellent job of showing how na?ve and
simple-minded an unrealistic approach to a singular future is, how it has
failed in the past and, at the extreme, how it has been profusely destructive.
Similarly, the book, through the use of some fairly sophisticated analysis,
provides a powerful argument for ethical pluralism.
In a highly interconnected world, there is not one better future that we will
all agree is best for us all. It is here that scenario planning becomes a vital
tool for furthering the dialogue among differences. Scenario planning can
foster understanding and empathy and lead us to a more imaginative and coherent
conversation about the future.
Ogilvy claims that “this book is about what it takes to create many better
futures, not just one — it introduces a set of ideas and tools that others can
use and build their own better futures.” The book shows us how it is indeed
possible to create better futures, AND how we can do it. It is refreshing to
observe this blending of theory and practice.
In sum, Ogilvy delivers. The book is not an easy read in the sense that one can
passively enjoy a simple narrative; rather, it demands an active participant in
a critical discourse. The author provides a new paradigm to demonstrate how we
could not only do better, but to strive for outcomes — via scenario planning
— which exceeds our current thinking. He tells and shows us how to bring
scenario planning to bear on the social issues which continue to haunt us. It
is an invitation to become both intellectually and practically involved in
creating a situation where “The future (not only) could be better than the
present” but rather “The future should be better than the present.”
About the reviewer: Allen Bures currently serves as Professor of Management and
Chair of the Department of Management and Marketing at Radford University. He
earned his PhD from the University of Nebraska and has previously taught at the
University of Dubuque, Atat?rk University (Turkey), Dongbei University of
Business and Economics (China) and the University of Nebraska. He recently
served as a Sr. Fulbright Scholar in Kyrgyzstan. His primary research interests
are in cross cultural and international management issues.
About the author: Dr. James A. Ogilvy is senior partner of the Global Business
Network and chairs the organization’s training program. He earned his PhD at
Yale and has previously taught at the University of Texas, Williams College,
and Yale. Previous works include Living Without a Goal (Doubleday
University, 1995), Many Dimensional Man (Oxford University Press, 1977;
Harper and Row, 1980), Revisioning Philosophy (State University of New
York Press, 1991).