#226 – Scenario Planning With Ursula Eysin

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the episode today, we have Ursula Eysin. Ursula, welcome. Thank you for having me, Thomas. It is my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do? Most certainly, thank you very much. My name is Ursula Eysin. I’m the founder and CEO of “Red swan” and our flagship is future scenario thinking. A process to turn uncertainty into an advantage, and facilitating these processes since 2011 for international organizations, ministries, companies, start-ups and even individuals to help them to turn uncertainty into an advantage, but let’s be honest, people hate uncertainty. When I first started my business it was actually not that easy to sell that, to sell uncertainty and change. People usually say, “give me some certainty instead. I would rather have some certainty.” Instead of thinking how to thrive in uncertainty. Well of course the crisis changed that a lot.

When the pandemic started, my phone didn’t stop ringing. There were so many new clients telling me now we should develop future scenarios. Don’t you have a process for that? Well, yes indeed I do, I have a process for that. It’s called future scenario thinking or future scenario planning and as many strategic tools, it was invented by the military. It was originally invented by the US Air Force in the 1940s for strategic planning, and what did they want to know, what did the military want to know? They wanted to know what could the enemy do, and that’s of course a big big uncertainty. Human behavior is really the biggest uncertainty. We’ve seen all our processes. You really don’t know what other people do. You don’t know what the enemy does, and of course the military, what could they do? Espionage is a way to do that, right? The not so elegant way, but it’s risky, and it also does not always work so good, right?

So, the US Air force came up with a process in which they imagined different future scenarios, not just one. It’s not about future trends, like just projecting one future trend into the future and bet on that one to happen. They developed different future scenarios and rehearsed them all, and so they were prepared for the best, the worst, and everything in between. This process was then adapted by business in the 1960s, 70s, a Royal Dutch shell, the oil company, adapted it for business very successfully. Shell was able to skyrocket from a rather weak market position to number two of the biggest oil companies in the world. They’re doing that ever since and a lot of companies are applying this process to turn uncertainty into a competitive advantage very often, you know in business we call the enemy the competitors, so to say, and it’s really a great process to do that and let’s be honest, crisis like the current ones actually throw us into an ocean of uncertainties that can make people and businesses desperate and very, they feel very powerless and out of control.

I cannot promise control to people, because the wish to control the future actually comes from a place of fear, and that’s never good advice, but what I can promise you is that you gain your power back over your life by this process, because you become aware of all the driving forces that lead to decisions and that can lead to uncertainties of course also and how to deal with that in a flexible way. Thank you for the introduction, a lot of good stuff in there. Initially I just wanted to ask you about, because we discussed a couple of things that are happening now and obviously previously about what might impact business. Of the things that you’ve worked with businesses on, were you able to help them, should we say, prepare for the types of scenarios that we’re facing now?

Yes. That’s a good answer. Actually, I was asked, now I’m asked very often, were any of your clients prepared for a pandemic and actually yes, they were. I tell people like what do you think, why the energy is still on, why while your mobile phone is still working and all that kind of stuff. These organizations like big energy companies, mobile phone companies, they prepare actually for things like that. They have pandemics in their crisis plans and the mid crisis mitigation plans. Impressive. But of course the whole scope of what we are facing now, I think nobody was prepared for that and that’s why we still need to be flexible.

I wasn’t thinking necessarily about the specific details about the type of scenario that would, I don’t know ensure that you had a certain amount saved for that type of scenario or something like that. Have you got any thoughts on what we covered as well like inflation for example, what to do about it? So how are business or how you’ve prepared a business for that type of scenario for example, for for the inflation, I think you have to diversify, you have to be aware that things like that can happen and of course it is good in times of big inflation, it is good to have something like real estate for example to have your own land to even be able to grow your own food if necessary. And also have a look into, I think the inflation might only be the top of the iceberg of the whole financial system collapsing, I’m sorry to be so pessimistic, but it actually might happen and I always prefer to face reality, maybe a word on that, it’s really not about being pessimistic, but it um facing the worst case scenario doesn’t mean I wish to have that to happen, but it is even if you think like, oh the worst thing that could happen if you imagine that and then you come back to your reality reality usually isn’t that bad.

So it’s not, I think it’s usually it’s quite a good exercise also to imagine the really worst case. So let’s imagine the worst case, the whole financial system might collapse and actually that happens quite a lot, it happens like every 80 years, which is a bit longer than a lifetime or about a lifetime. So people usually cannot remember, but the financial systems call ups regularly, so this might happen. So what can you do, as I mentioned before, really state owned land, grow your own food, that kind of stuff, prepare for the worst, I think it’s a good thing to prepare for the worst. It’s not fear, it’s preparing for the worst that you can be safe, that you can feel safe about that. And um diversify. Maybe also look into things like crypto. And I know now crypto is really, really down, it really planted took a plunge, but in the long run crypto might be really the um, it’s a democratic way how the financial system could actually work.

And in my opinion, it’s really the future. So, so it takes plunges and it’s very volatile. It may be a good thing to look into into crypto as well then of course, also only things like gold silver, that kind of stuff to be on the safe side. So yeah, diversify, inform yourself about finances and and also if everything of that, if you maybe you cannot do that, let’s say that you cannot buy gold, you cannot buy silver, you cannot buy real estate. What is your safest thing? The safest thing is your own skills? Nobody can take away your own skills, your own priorities be very clear about your values and what you want to see in life and how you would want the word to change if everything collapses and then something new emerges and what you could contribute to that if you have some skills and everybody has some valuable skills. It’s just that so many people don’t know what it really is, but nobody can take that away from you.

And if you have something of value to offer, you will always be able to create an income for yourself. And I think that’s actually the, the safest thing you can do. Thank you for that you mentioned before the call that potentially we could see a like a decade of, I don’t know if you describe it as hardship, but similar scenarios of what we’ve seen before, of the things which are generally applicable to other businesses. What are some of the things which you would recommend preparing for other than what we’ve talked about? Of course. Um I think there might a lot of structures be collapsing. Like when you have one crisis, as I mentioned, it might be a whole decade of one crisis after the other. That could lead to a collapse of a lot of structures, not only the financial structures. And I think the best thing is again, to know your values and to think of what you would like to see in the world and to start creating these structures.

For example, for me, a very important value is human connection. I would like to see more human connection in the world. I don’t want to see people distancing from each other. I want to see the opposite movement. So I will do with my work, I will do everything to bring people closer together to have this human connection. Because always in terms of crisis, it’s always important that people help each other, that’s actually our biggest strengths also as humanity. I once read a quote by I think an evolutionary biologist or something like that and she would was asked um what do you think is the biggest achievement of humanity? And they expected that she would say something like the invention of the wheel or something like that, and she said actually it’s human collaboration for her, it was like what she could see um they found pieces of bones that were broken and then healed again and she said you see there was someone helping this person, this person broke their arm, but there was someone caring for them.

So in this collaboration that she thinks that for humans is actually our biggest strength, strength, you have no one, you can rely on, you will be the one with the broken arm who dies, but if you have stretches you can rely on you will survive and you can even create a better future reminds me of something which heard recently it was oh nightingale and he said that imagine if you have a time machine and you can go back let’s say 1000 years ago, um what, what could you actually explain to someone who was living 1000 years ago that you could help them kind of learn how to do that, they wouldn’t know how to do and it’s an example of like if you actually think about it, we don’t know that much about how things are created, like for example, if you, we could tell them that a car would exist, but in terms of how, how you get fossil fuels out the ground and then build the car etcetera, it turns out that we don’t know a lot about how to build a car from a person to person basis, but because we have, like you said human collaboration, we’re able to have a much better standard of life as a result of that.

Exactly, yes, it’s very interesting. We will do a workshop with students in June where they have to imagine that the iPhone or smartphones didn’t exist and they have to build it from scratch, they have a whole day and they have to and they have a lot of experts on uh tips and then and all that kind of stuff they can talk to and they have to build it. And I was also thinking, oh my God, how how are they supposed to build that? I don’t even know all the components and I’m, I’m a technology consultant, but we will see maybe they come up with very innovative solutions. One of the things that you did say before we were recording was that there are in times of, should we say uncertainty or volatility? That is where a lot of innovation comes from. So what are your thoughts on perhaps opportunity in times of hardship? I think that we as humans actually need obstacles.

Nothing went wrong when there are obstacles. If you look at the development of human civilization which started in Mesopotamia, it’s spelled like that. Um this is not a very good area to live in. There are two rivers and then it’s in summer, it’s very hot and then it’s flooded and all that kind of stuff. But that made humans very creative and we really need that. Nothing went wrong when there are obstacles. I always tell my students just imagine um you have, you are watching the film, the movie titanic and everyone is embarking on this big, big journey. They are crossing the ocean and the land everybody gets off. That’s it. That wouldn’t be a film. We wouldn’t like that at all. Nobody would, nobody would watch that movie. But in life we always expect that everything is just smooth and nothing happens. But that’s just not life. That’s I think life is more like a roller coaster and we are here to ride the roller coaster.

It’s not like, oh, I don’t, I don’t like to ride the roller coaster is really like a roller coaster and um what I think or observe is that really obstacles make humans very creative. A very good example for me is even in refugee camps, there are people for example, there are people who like to bake and they bake their own bread and then they see others need bread too. So I start a bakery. So we really even when we are really, really down we are creative enough to come back from that and that’s very beautiful. I really love to see that. That’s what I love about humanity. Thank you for that. I know I’ve asked you some quite specific questions today, so thank you for answering them. In terms of let’s say you do you have a conversation with someone and you say that you do scenario planning? What are some of the main misconceptions that someone has about what that is? Thank you for the question. That’s a very good question.

Most times people think because it’s called future scenario thinking that it is about foreseeing the future about foresight and that’s actually not at all what it is, I’m not this squirrel type who says you know I know the future will look like that and now be in fear because it will be so bad and no one will survive anything like that. Um It’s actually not at all about that. And actually the people who do foresight who do these future trends where they only have like one future trend and this will be the future, they understand this what I’m doing the least. So this is a typical misconception that people think I do future trends like it will be high technology world and ai will kill us all and that kind of stuff and that’s absolutely not what it is about. It’s really more about this whole process about finding out you’re driving forces and how to thrive in uncertainty. That’s actually what it is about.

And not at all about telling others how the future will look like it is about shaping and creating the future and helping everyone to do that for themselves. Reminds me a lot of stoicism principle which says that you sort of take action on or prepare for things that you can control and you don’t give any thought or worry to things that you can’t control. And so my imagination of what you do on a daily basis is sort of list out the possibilities of things that will happen and perhaps put a percentage of how probable they are along with what actions that you need to take in order to prepare from them. Is that kind of close to Absolutely. That’s wonderful. Okay, any wins or perhaps highlights that you that you can think of that spring to mind. Yes, I mentioned that I also do that for individuals to make them take better decisions in the here and now.

And I had a very rewarding experience with a 13 year old student. Um she was desperate because in Austria with 13, you have to decide which school you want to choose now. And she was really, she really didn’t know her mother told me, we are all desperate, We don’t know which school to choose should she stay in this general humanistic general type of school work or more technical, more economic, we don’t know, she does know we’re all desperate and I was like well that looks like a scenario problem, we should do a scenario process on that if she would like to of course and she said yes, Hannah, the student said yes and we took a saturday to imagine her future scenarios, her future school scenarios. In the end, I even interviewed her from the future like 10 years from now you study human rights as you intend to do which decision did lead you to this path, Are you happy with that?

Was it right to decide for this school and that kind of stuff. And uh when we, it worked really well, I didn’t even know if that would work. This highly strategic process would work with the 13 year old student, but actually the imagination of um students of young people is great. So it really, really worked well and when her mother came to pick her up, the mother was like, so do you now know what school you want to go to? And I said, I think she actually knows very well what she wants and the mother was like, but Hannah, you told me you don’t know and Hannah said well until today, I didn’t know, but now I do right, do you find that um people do typically, no, um what might be best for them, but it’s just a case of sort of bringing it out of them by asking some good questions, especially in that particular case I suppose.

Yes, I think you have to bring it out of them. Um I think the good thing with so young people is they do not think they know it, so it’s very easy to get it out of them if you have people who are much older that if you’re working with someone who might be 50 60 years old, they already have a lot of baggage, right? And usually they think they know what they want, but actually it’s a rare human being who really knows what they want. So that’s also what I love about this process because it brings the subconscious things, the subconscious driving forces to the light every time. Also in groups, the best for me also the best moment is always when it’s always like you have a matrix and you have four different scenarios and then when people stand in front of them and say you know what I always thought this scenario is the best one, but now I see it completely differently and this is for me always, yes, that was exactly this shift in perspective, I want to have this process.

Why is it that you think that perhaps people don’t plan accordingly? I heard something a statistic, I think it was which said that recessions happen every seven years or something like that, but no one prepares for them or I should say an extreme minority of people prepare for that type of scenario. Why do you think that is? I think that people would rather distract them from feeling pain. That’s also why our entertainment industry is so big because it distracts you. It’s like, don’t look there, look here, it feels much better, doesn’t it? But it’s like if you have a compound fracture and you say, oh, I don’t look, I don’t look at that, I just take some novocaine and well how good will that do you in the long run? Of course, in the short run you don’t feel the pain good people want that. I know people want that. Just give me a pill and that’s also actually what people ask for me, like just give me a metric bullet.

I don’t want to think of all the things that can happen. I just want to have something to help me and that’s not, that doesn’t work. So I think, um um people tend to avoid the pain in the present moment, but it’s actually two to the detriment of course, if you are not preparing and I again, I wouldn’t like to call this planning because it’s actually also not by it’s not about having a detailed plan about the future. It’s more about being flexible because you might know the quote by, by the boxer Tyson who said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Absolutely, Absolutely. So I would not recommend to have a detailed plan because then people tend to to try to control the future with this plan and that would also will also not not help them, but it’s really like stay flexible, inform yourself, prepare for some bad things that can happen and always think what, what kind of future would I want to create after everything that I could happen?

Elon musk has said recently, I think it is, it’s people kind of tend to focus on what they hope is true rather than what is actually true. And kind of makes me think of, your answer is wishful thinking is essentially what people do, right? Absolutely. It’s wishful thinking and I think it’s very dangerous. That’s why I also very often say my process is about facing reality. It’s for people who want to face reality to create a better future for themselves. And you can only create anything from the place of reality. You cannot create anything out of wishful thinking. I certainly think it would be beneficial to, should we say at least your services. So I appreciate you talking about it today. Is there anything I should have asked you about? You actually ask very good questions. Would you mind if I ask you one of my scenario questions so that your listeners see what we are always asking people Yeah, go for it.

So we, in preparation of our processes, we usually conduct some scenario interviews with people and we asked them something like if you could look into the future of your business, for example, what would you like to know? So is that you’re actually asking me what I’d like to know and how far into the future are we looking? Let’s say 10 years, mm. Um What’s The, What’s The Revenue of the Business in 10 Years Time? Mhm. And if it the future unfolded in the wrong direction, what would you be worried about? I suppose the thing that I worry about is having to not not keep employees that I want to keep. So if it was going in the wrong direction, obviously that’s the worst case scenario for me. And if the future unfolded according to your wishes realistically, but optimistically, what would it look like? The opposite of that?

So being able to hire lots and lots of talented people. So talented people? Yeah, thank you very much. Um that there are no wrong, there are no wrong answers. But I would encourage your listeners actually to think of that, like because this brings out a lot of your values, a lot of your driving forces and if you are on safe basis of values, like in your case now here, human talent is one of your values right? It’s a really huge driving force for you and your future. So you will invest in that Um and you can think of things um to do, to get the best talent for your for your business and if you um have defined a clear set of values for yourself, that’s also very stable in crisis. I think it’s like um a beacon in a crisis, you know, like I said, human connection is very important for me, something like that. So I will do everything in even in a crisis to get human connection because then I feel safe.

Great, thank you for sharing that. This is a question that we talked about before we started recording, which is, what’s the definition of success for you? The definition of success for me is actually also about human connection. In my business, I go into every meeting with the goal to have a great conversation and to connect to people deeply and actually the projects, the money, the success comes automatically from that, because this is actually my core value, so when it created a deep connection to humans in anything I do that’s successful for me. Did we have a successful chat today, then? We did, we did, indeed. I just wanted to mention that, like we did today, yes. Thank you. If people want to connect with you or know more, where do they go? You can go to my website, it’s www.redswan.at

And if you would like to read my monthly column on technology, madness and the future of humanity, I would love you to subscribe to my sub stuck. It’s code red by redswan.substack.com. Ursula, thank you for being a great guest today. Thank you for being a great host, Thomas. It was my pleasure.