How Scenarios Became Corporate Strategies: Alternative Futures and Uncertainty in Strategic Management
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How Scenarios Became Corporate Strategies tracks the transformation of scenario planning, a non-calculative technique for imagining alternative futures, from postwar American thermonuclear defence projects to corporate planning efforts beginning in the late 1960s. Drawing on archival research, the dissertation tells a history of how different corporate strategists in the second half of the twentieth century attempted to engage with future uncertainties by drawing heterogeneous and sometimes contradictory rational and intuitive techniques together in their developments of corporate scenario planning. By tracing the heterogeneity of methodologies and intellectual influences in three case studies from corporate scenario planning efforts in the United States and Britain, the dissertation demonstrates how critical and countercultural philosophies that emphasized irrational human capacities like imagination, consciousness, and intuitionoften assumed to be antithetical to the rule-bound, quantitative rationalities of corporate planning effortsbecame crucial tools, rather than enemies, of corporate strategy under uncertainty after 1960. The central argument of the dissertation is that corporate scenario planning projects were non-calculative speculative attempts to augment the calculative techniques of traditional mid-century strategic decision-making with diverse human reasoning tools in order to explore and understand future uncertainties. Consequently, these projects were intertwined with an array of sometimes contradictory genealogies, from technical postwar military planning practices to countercultural intellectual resources that questioned the technological imperatives of modern life. Yet, by the mid-1980s, corporate scenario planning efforts transformed from contemplative strategies for exploring uncertainties into a method associated with the capacities of thought leaders. It was through the rising thought leadership industry of the late-twentieth-century that scenarios gained legitimacy, enabling multinational corporations to rely upon the charismatic authority of scenario practitioners in the face of unknowable futures. In making this argument, the dissertation revises assumptions in the history of postwar science and technology and science studies that pivot on the importance of impersonal, calculative strategies and technical capacities in uncertain conditions.