Publication | ThinkSet
In a World Undergoing Seismic Change, Corporations Need to Think Long-Term
Lessons learned from a panel of leading CEOs, GCs, academics, and foreign policy experts
In 1981, when other oil companies stockpiled reserves in the wake of the Iran–Iraq war, Shell sold off its excess supply just before a glut of cheap oil sent prices tumbling. The energy giant similarly had been well prepared for the 1973 oil crisis.
How? In the early 1960s, Shell executives began thinking about the future in a new and different way. Their “scenario planning”—a practice that continues to this day—is not about forecasts or predictions, which often are wrong and assume the world tomorrow will be like it is today. Rather, the method is about developing stories that embrace uncertainty, intuition, dynamism, and open dialogue.
If the world was uncertain when Shell first started scenario planning, it is even more so now: COVID, the war in Ukraine, the rise of China—take your pick. But when I look at corporations, I see few long-term strategies. Managers aren’t being trained with a geopolitical, systems-level understanding of our increasingly interconnected world. This needs to change.
As part of that effort, at the Asia Society’s recent Coal + Ice festival at the Kennedy Center, I convened a panel of leading CEOs, general counsel, academics, and foreign policy experts, including some of my BRG colleagues. Over the course of our conversation, we discussed how corporations can start thinking and collaborating differently, with an eye toward long-term, systemic, and geopolitical considerations.