Part 2 –Vision-Based Planning – Key elements and the 11 Steps – Expansion

The future is about potential and possibility, not a regurgitation of the past. This is the most important and least understood, part of the VBP workshop process. Planning is not about making the future look like the past, it’s about possibilities and potential, and that requires creativity and imagination. Indeed, one of the key elements to our expansionary process is that we get you, the leadership, to focus on future demand. Together we leap ahead 5, 10, 20, and occasionally 100 years (for the energy and pulp and paper industries) and think about the future from the perspective of demand-pull, not technology-push. (Most people take a supply-push or technology-push approach.) And then we work backward to the present in order to meet the current and short-term future of supply- and technology-push.

Editor’s Note: See Part 1 HERE

In this expansion Phase, we have 3 Steps
Step 1: Identify and understand the strategic context.
Step 2: Analyze issues, concerns, and problems of the organization today and into the future.
Step 3: Identify possible/potential desired directions for the organization using creative and imaginative techniques.

Although this phase is the most important part of the process, most people tend to omit it. While they generally perform some STEP or STEEP analyses as mentioned in a previous article, it is almost always conducted as an intellectual or analytical process. Our approach is imaginative and creative. We want people to get out of the box, to use their imaginations to visualize the future, to use all their senses and discover the passion for the ideas and concepts. We also want them to experience the camaraderie and fun of working together.

Sometimes our clients who are engineers or military officers want to gloss over this step. They ask us: “When will we start work on the vision and plan?” or “When will we get to the real work?” Yet after they have gone through the process, they realize their minds did expand and they did develop new ideas. They saw things differently. And in some cases, even though it was not designed as part of the process, new ideas for technologies and systems emerged from the workshops. They also learned more about themselves and each other—both key elements of working together toward a shared vision.

We do not necessarily take these three steps sequentially, although we cover the content of all three in the course of this phase. Part of the process requires that we view and examine various aspects of the organization and its environment from different perspectives. For instance, we often cycle between semi-analytical and very creative techniques. One of the critical parts is to ensure that you and your leadership team takes a comprehensive approach to evaluating the strategic environment. We often find that people want to focus on technology or the competition at the expense of understanding social and political aspects of the environment. Understanding people is crucial, whatever the nature of the organization. After all, people are responsible for developing and using technology, people fuel the economy by buying and selling what they choose, and people vote for politicians and their policies.

In planning the workshop, we specify both plenary (full group) sessions and small group sessions designed so everyone will spend some time working with everyone else. This technique contributes very effectively to team building and improved communications. The nature and composition of the groups depend on the structure of the organization, your leadership group, stakeholders and partners, and the nature of the problems and issues facing it. There are no passengers in our workshops! Everyone participates, and everyone gets “air time.”

One word of caution – explained in detail in a previous article: Most people underestimate the time it takes to conduct a workshop session. We are frequently shocked by large organizations that tell us they want to hold a one-day workshop to discuss a subject of critical importance. It is ludicrous to imagine that 30 to 50 people can spend one day together and arrive at any useful results.

During the workshop, from shortly after the first session begins through to the end of the session, we prepare a draft WarRoom that we display around the room. This enables participants to see what they have produced and to follow the logic trail through the process as they go.

Consensus, not Compromise

One of the main benefits of the VBP approach is that it generates true consensus.

Consensus means to be in accord—in harmony—in opinion.

A compromise is a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.

True consensus is powerful because it means that those who have arrived at a consensus will be willing to do what it takes to achieve the highest level of vision and mission that your group has defined. If you and your leadership are involved in developing the consensus, then you will be passionate about it—you will, as we say, “do it like you mean it.”

In a compromise, the vision and mission are likely to be smaller in scope, since people have conceded some aspects of their desires. They are less likely to be willing to do what it takes because they are not wholeheartedly passionate about the result. This is one key element of the “head and heart” combination described in the first article.

Imagination and the Future

One of the most important aspects of understanding people is to realize that they do not act solely on the basis of logic. In some cases, much more than most people realize, imagination and creativity take over.

No one can analyze the future. There are no data available—and thus we cannot use pure analytical techniques for this part of the process—which is why we have developed semi-analytical techniques ourselves or use those developed by others. We can extrapolate from the past, develop models and simulations, and develop scenarios about the future. But it is all speculation. We can give it the illusion of more accuracy by associating numbers with the speculations and analyzing the outcomes but, at the end of the day, it is all that we used to call SWAGs (sophisticated-wild-assed guesses).

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be bad, if people do not realize the limitations of the speculations, and act as if they were dealing with facts. But it can also be a hugely freeing and creative endeavor if we realize that our imaginations are powerful. Every invention and innovation started as someone’s wild idea or dream.

Mature organizations, with mature technologies and processes, can benefit from all these ideas, just as much as high-tech start-ups. Mature organizations that can get a power boost from new and creative ideas—either internally or through new strategic alliances—can experience a real resurgence, as a number of MIT studies have shown.[1], [2]

Intuition and the Art of Decision-Making

Most people (in the West, at least) think about decision-making as something of a science. We accumulate as much information as we can. We assemble it, analyze it, weigh the pros and cons, prioritize it, and eventually make our decisions. Then we pat ourselves on the back for having done the best we could to make the correct decision.

However, many recent studies, such as one conducted in a joint research study from the Kellogg School of Management and Nijmegen University, have indicated that a combination of analysis and intuition provides the best solutions to solving complex problems.[3] Over a decade ago, research psychologist Gary Klein wrote a seminal work on intuition—how to develop it, apply it and safeguard it.[4] And today, there are many organizations that teach intuition among other personal skills.

We have put such an emphasis on intuition to indicate to the skeptics that an intuitive approach to thinking about the future and decision-making is not only valuable, but it really works. And we incorporate intuitive techniques into this Expansion Phase.

On completion of the Expansion Phase, participants then have a gap of two days to two weeks to reflect on what has been accomplished before the Synthesis Phase. To be continued in Part 3…

Editor’s Note: This Article is excerpted from Strategy with Passion: A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future by MacNulty & Woodall


[1]      Richard M. Locke and Rachel L. Wellhausen (Eds) Production in the Innovation Economy, MIT Press, January 2014.

[2]      Suzanne Berger, Making in America: From Innovation to Market, MIT Press, January 2014.

[3]      Loran F. Nordgren et al., “The Best of Both Worlds: Integrating Conscious and Unconscious Thought Best Solves Complex Decisions,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, March 2011, Pages 509–511.

[4]      Gary Klein, The Power of Intuition, Currency, Doubleday, 2003.


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Christine MacNulty
CHRISTINE MacNulty has forty years’ experience as a consultant in long-term strategic -planning for concepts as well as organizations, futures studies, foresight, and technology forecasting, technology assessment and related areas, as well as socio-cultural change. For the last twenty years, most of her consultancy has been conducted for the Department of Defense and the Services, NATO ACT, NATO NEC, the British Army’s Force Development & Training Command, and the German BBK. Prior to that her work was in the commercial arena where she had Fortune Global 500 clients. During the last thirty-five years Christine MacNulty has contributed methods and models for understanding social and cultural change through people’s values. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in 1989. She is the coauthor of two books: Industrial Applications of Technology Forecasting, Wiley, 1971 and Strategy with Passion – A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future, August 2016. Her paper: “Method for minimizing the negative consequences of nth order effects in strategic communication actions and inactions” was published in NATO Defence Strategic Communications Journal, p 99, Winter 2015. Two monographs “Truth, Perception & Consequences” (2007) and “Transformation: From the Outside In or the Inside Out” (2008) were published by the Army War College. Perceptions, Values & Motivations in Cyberspace appeared in the IO Journal, 3rd Quarter, 2009, and The Value of Values for IO, SC & Intel was published in the August 2010 edition of the IO Journal.
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