Tony Samson-125


IT’S A NEW YEAR and time to anticipate new challenges, strategies, and possible outcomes. Different plot lines can involve varying sets of players and settings. In movies, shifting approaches are tried out.

The “scenario” (sometimes called a storyboard) is a device that directors use to shoot a movie with different scenes, characters, endings, script, costumes, and props. The various approaches allow the director to re-imagine the story and how much the budget will cost. Scenarios are now also applied to business planning, economy projections and political events.

Scenario-building is a planning tool to explore various actions and reactions and come up with strategies to suit different developments. Real life is more complicated than moviemaking though. A set scenario for the coming year can be derailed by unexpected events like a pandemic, a super typhoon, or periodic surveys of leading candidates for the coming elections.

Political scenario-building is a pastime for Viber groups and pundits, as well as political operators. About this time, scenarios revolve around survey results. Why is the frontrunner consistently garnering over half of the preferences of respondents? What messages are working for him? Does keeping quiet and letting the messaging seep in without any interviews and speeches work?

Game plans in this current scenario are tested in focus groups. The survey results should also provide more information and data beyond just the ranking of preferences. There may be insights to be gathered from respondents on why they are “voting” the way they are. Do opposition attacks work, or are these only strengthening the lead of the frontrunner by making him “the man to beat…up”?

Scenario building presumes an appreciation of how different variables support or oppose one another. It is important to see the links between cause and effect, actions and reactions to events. News items, like survey results, can cause shifting of support. Smart money, from tycoons and big business, may go to the frontrunner as a hedged bet, even if emotional support is for another candidate.

Sometimes, surveys can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, or mind-conditioning. As the lead of the frontrunner looks insurmountable, support for the second placer may weaken — what’s the use? This only feeds the likelihood of the forecast turning into a reality. The survey that truly counts, after all, isn’t till May of this new year.

Scenarists have similarities with conspiracy theorists. Imagination is their strong suit. No improbability is dismissed. Even missteps and early withdrawals from the contest are seen as cunning moves.

Planners talk of “best case” and “worst case” scenarios as convenient labels for the conclusion of a string of events whether beneficial or harmful to a particular group. Clearly, one side’s best case may be the opposing side’s worst one. Scenarios differ according to the desired outcome of the principals involved.

Think tanks use history and culture to construct realistic scenarios. What can we learn from the past? Thus, a proponent of an authoritarian scenario tries to understand the military mindset and the effect that power has on subordinates — How high should I jump, Sir?

The rise and fall of the Roman empire may be able to teach a few lessons (Do not over-reach), but without the benefit of how information spreads much faster in a digital world, some major tweaks need to be applied to history, including events that happened 50 years ago.

Will fascists used to giving orders and not being questioned allow media to be independent? Countries like Myanmar, show that military rule does not easily graduate to a democratic process, even when free elections are allowed. When won by an opponent in a landslide, the fascist response is predictable. Martial law is declared and the winner thrown back in jail where she came from.

Because they deal with the uncharted future, scenarios cannot fully anticipate sudden twists in the plot, much like a soap opera. As in movies, the main characters don’t always determine the ending. There is the supporting cast and the mob of extras that can change the ending of the story.

Scenarios need to keep up with the twists in the plot. But meticulous planning can only go so far. Sometimes, even the worst-case scenarios being planned for can turn out not pessimistic enough. By the same token, the best-case scenario may have left out the effects of hope… and the power of the people.


Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda