8 min read

Scenario-Based Strategizing: Robust Strategies for an Uncertain Future

Rapid technological advancements, multiple crises, and continuous market disruption have left organisations facing a highly volatile, complex, and uncertain environment. Under such conditions, traditional strategy formation methods that assume a single future direction are no longer suitable to produce high-quality strategic decisions. More than ever, strategizing needs to embrace uncertainty and must consider multiple plausible futures, translating this into clear strategic actions. Over decades, researchers and practitioners have advocated the scenario-based technique as a key method for strategy development in both complex and uncertain environments.

Words by Stephanie Strobl 

In this blog post, we delve into scenario-based strategizing, explaining the process of creating vivid scenarios and how to translate them into robust strategies. Additionally, we provide a real-world example within the realm of sustainability to illustrate the concepts discussed.

Scenario-Based Strategizing in Research and Practice

Scenario-based strategic planning is not a new concept. It emerged in the 1970s, when companies across industries were facing increasing environmental uncertainty. According to scholars Lehr et al. (2017), Shell’s scenario exercise in the 1970s is one of the first and best documented examples of its real-world application in business. Shell leveraged scenarios to anticipate and plan for potential rises in oil prices. When the Israeli-Arab conflict caused a sudden surge in oil prices, Shell exhibited superior readiness compared to its competitors. As a result, the company was able to significantly enhance its competitive position. Inspired by the example of Shell, numerous organisations began embracing different variations of the scenario technique. 

Since then, scenario-based strategizing has also been addressed thoroughly in research. Gavetti and Menon (2016) and Lehr et al. (2017) have outlined the necessity of a foresight-driven strategizing approach in uncertain environments, and have promoted its ability to help overcome organisational myopia and inertia. 

Traditional versus Scenario-Based Strategizing: The Power of Scenarios 

Working well in stable environments, traditional strategic planning is typically geared towards past experiences, optimises for a single expected future, and is focused on the core business. Through day-to-day competing and regular benchmarking exercises, established companies have learned the rules of their industry and how to optimise their business for value creation. However, in times of market disruptions in which business models are fundamentally challenged, successful strategy development requires approaches that focus on drivers of change and challenge conventional thinking to fend off risks and identify opportunities for growth. In practice as well as research, scenario-based strategizing has been promoted for over 40 years as the method for strategic planning in uncertain environments. 

Traditional strategic planning assumes a single predicted future. It is designed to manage stability, optimise for an expected future and focuses on the current business. In contrast, scenario-driven strategizing considers multiple plausible futures, enabling organisations to anticipate change and focus on both current and new opportunities 

Scenario-based strategizing brings uncertainty to the forefront of its methodology by engaging with multiple plausible futures and identifying key drivers of change. This technique is designed to anticipate changes in the environment and the subsequent need for transformation. It enables the establishment of action plans to adapt to diverse potential futures, enhancing overall organisational agility and flexibility. By employing scenario-based strategizing, businesses can effectively identify and mitigate risks associated with different futures, thereby accelerating organisational resilience and future-preparedness.  Considering the words of Lehr et al. (2017, p. 223): “The main promise that scenario-based strategizing holds is raising the likelihood that strategists can form and execute strategies that are distant from the status quo and yield a higher value creation potential (Gavetti and Menon, 2016; Rohrbeck and Schwarz, 2013; Rohrbeck, 2012)”.


Once established, the process of scenario-based strategizing becomes self-optimising and enhances organisational learning and capability development. It enables companies to gain a more comprehensive and profound understanding of their environment, reuses prior insights and generates a collection of reusable elements that serve as a basis for ongoing monitoring of environmental changes. Ultimately, the technique supports early detection of decisive moments in time, prompting swift action to fend off threats and capture opportunities for growth. 

Scenario-Based Strategizing: The Methodology 

With over 15 years of experience and having co-developed methods with leading industrial firms like Adidas, Lufthansa, Siemens, and more, Rohrbeck Heger by Creative Dock is a pioneer in strategic foresight and innovation. Leveraging this expertise, their experts created a step-by-step framework to guide clients through the process of scenario-based strategizing. 

In brief, the method follows the three main steps: 

1. Identify future drivers of change 

2. Develop plausible future narratives

3. Evaluate strategies against scenarios

The three steps of scenario-based strategizing: Keys factor identification, scenario development & strategy evaluation against scenarios 

The process begins with the identification of drivers of change, also known as key influencing factors. This involves analysing technological and regulatory aspects of the environment, as well as customer preferences and economic, governmental, ecological, stakeholder, and other ecosystem factors (often deploying a framework such as STEEP). Unlike trends, factors are neutral and undirected and can evolve in different directions over time. To identify these factors, a combination of systematic and explorative research approaches is employed, including desk research, internal document review, scientific literature analysis, and interviews with internal and external stakeholders and experts. Subsequently, key influencing factors are determined by assessing the factors’ predictability and impact. Key influencing factors are characterised by being highly uncertain in their development (low predictability) while also being highly relevant (high impact), as their development significantly affects the field being analysed. 

The basis of scenario construction lies in collecting key influencing factors, which exhibit both low predictability in their development and high relevance in terms of impact

Utilising tools like cross-impact analysis, the key influencing factors are clustered into themes, which are essentially a combination of various factors that influence the future of the respective field. Within these themes, the factors represent the main stakeholders, including consumers, government, science & technology, environment, and suppliers. These factors can have different developments, referred to as projections, which implies that each theme can evolve in different directions. Ultimately, either a software-based or human-powered combination of theme developments generates raw scenarios. 

Key influencing factors are clustered into themes, which form the basis for scenario construction. The combination of different theme developments gives origin to raw scenarios

Scenarios are often portrayed through vibrant storytelling to support envisioning and conveying various potential futures. Similarly, multiple strategic action fields are identified and evaluated against the scenarios based on their effectiveness in achieving goals (performance) and their ability to withstand challenges (resilience). Consequently, this allows senior management to compare strategies that perform exceptionally well in specific scenarios with those that may be less effective individually but offer greater durability across multiple scenarios. 

By assessing alternative strategies for goal efficacy (performance) and robustness (resilience) across identified scenarios, top management can compare high-performing strategies specific to a scenario with robust strategies that ensure survival across scenarios, though they may have lower performance

Case Study: Sustainability in 2030

The significance of scenario-based strategizing becomes particularly evident in the realm of sustainability. With the world facing urgent environmental challenges, organisations are under growing pressure to incorporate sustainability into their core strategies. But the journey towards implementing sustainable approaches is anything but simple. The unpredictable landscape shaped by climate change, resource scarcity, and evolving consumer expectations demands adopting agile and flexible approaches for businesses to thrive. 

During the Future Atelier Workshop Series, foresight experts of Rohrbeck Heger by Creative Dock created four scenarios for sustainability in 2030 with participants, delving into the impact of climate change on logistics and supply chains in multiple plausible futures and uncovering innovation opportunities. 

Based on research, analysis of drivers of change, and subsequent prioritisation, the experts identified two factors prior to the workshop that would have the biggest impact on the future of sustainability by 2030, and at the same time would be highly uncertain in their development. 

1. Environmental regulation:

Will governments unite and take effective measures to enforce binding and comprehensive regulations for the control of carbon emissions?

2. Sustainable behaviour:

To what extent will the collective actions of individuals and organisations demonstrate sustainability? 

In a next step, these variables were plotted in a so-called scenario cross. During the two-hour workshop session, participants were invited to engage in an interactive brainstorming session to examine the potential impact of different scenarios on supply chains. Through thought-provoking discussions, participants explored the implications of each scenario on logistics and supply chains, enabling them to craft vibrant visions of the future. Employing collaborative Miro Boards, participants collectively assessed the probable outcomes alongside social, technological, economic, ecological, and political dimensions, all while considering necessary strategic actions for each potential future. 

To envision different plausible futures for sustainability in 2030, we plot two key influencing factors in a scenario matrix, resulting in four scenarios of the future

Scenario one portrays a deliberate deceleration in the transition towards a post-growth society, brought about by stringent regulations. Conversely, scenario two envisions the triumph of clean technology, ushering in a future where green growth becomes a tangible reality. Within the range of scenarios, scenarios three and four reside at the more pessimistic outlook for our planet. In the third scenario, a world is envisioned where regulations put in place are insufficient in effectively tackling climate change. Scenario four presents the daunting prospect of a planet where we have failed it completely, as inadequate regulation and lacking green innovation fall short in effectively addressing climate change mitigation. 

During the workshop, participants discussed various practical strategies based on different scenarios. In the first scenario, which focused on a "post-growth" environment, they explored options such as diversifying into new industries and forming partnerships for efficient distribution in a circular economy. In contrast, for scenario four, which depicted a world impacted by disasters, participants emphasised the importance of building resilience. They proposed ideas like incorporating redundancies and backup plans into logistics systems to better cope with disruptions caused by extreme weather events. The participants acknowledged that comprehending weather patterns in this scenario could not only mitigate challenges but also create opportunities and shape consumer demand.

The 2020s emerge as a pivotal decade for tackling climate change, with intensifying natural disasters serving as alarming reminders of the high stakes involved. However, past efforts to address it have been insufficient. As a result, sustainability has taken centre stage in strategic discussions due to mounting pressure from regulators, societies, and nature. Yet the future of sustainability is uncertain. Scenario-based strategizing advises against drawing simple assumptions on how customer expectations, technology, regulations, and other factors will evolve. Instead, it urges us to prepare for alternative paths and construct resilient strategies. 

Scenario-Based Strategizing as a Key Tool in Uncertain Times  

Traditional strategic planning techniques that assume a single predicted future are ineffective for generating high-quality strategic decision-making in uncertain environments. In times of uncertainty, it is crucial for strategizing approaches to embrace environmental complexity and uncertainty to identify superior courses of strategic actions and enhance organisational resilience. Over the course of several decades, scenario-based strategizing has been widely endorsed by researchers and practitioners as a key method for forming strategies in uncertain environments. This approach is specifically designed to comprehensively explore potential futures, enabling timely detection of environmental changes and facilitating the development of action plans that are both robust and capable of capturing growth opportunities. 

Specialising in strategic foresight and innovation, Rohrbeck Heger by Creative Dock is a pioneer in scenario-based strategizing with methods that it co-developed with leading industrial firms like Adidas, Lufthansa, Siemens, Total, Bosch, Deutsche Telekom, Mercedes-Benz, Cisco, and Tata Motors. Additionally, the company has conducted 15 years of university research at the EDHEC Business School in Roubaix, France, which the Financial Times ranks among Top 10 Business Schools in Europe.


Want to explore how you can utilise scenario-based strategizing for your organisation? Contact Serge Dupaux to reach our Strategic Foresight experts from Rohrbeck Heger by Creative Dock!



Gavetti & Menon (2016). Evolution Cum Agency: Toward a Model of Strategic Foresight. Strategy Science. Vol. 1, No. 3, September 2016, pp. 207–233

Heger & Rohrbeck. Scenario-based strategizing: Develop Robust Strategies for an Uncertain Future 

Lehr et. al (2017). Scenario-based strategizing: Advancing the applicability in strategists’ teams. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 124 (2017), p. 214-224

Rohrbeck Heger Insights (2021). Building a sustainable strategy? Future-proof it with these 4 scenarios.

Wulf, T., Meissner, P., Brands, C., Stubner, S. (2013). Scenario-based strategic planning: A new approach to coping with uncertainty. In: Schwenker, B., Wulf, T. (eds) Scenario-based Strategic Planning. Roland Berger School of Strategy and Economics. Springer Gabler, Wiesbaden

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It might not be surprising that a man who founded FastID, a service to manage your digital identity, would leave very little track online. Therefore, when doing research, you need to challenge your LinkedIn bubble and one of the suggestions you can get is something like “Don’t forget he has four children and he loves talking about them!” So, starting with a question about childhood and the internet seems just appropriate.

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Daniel Falque on venture building in Belgium, banking, corporate culture, and the importance of distribution

If you happened to come across Daniel’s resume with his name missing, you might think some parents had sketched a perfect career for their child. You can almost hear them advising: “Start from scratch, little boy, as an insurance salesman and credit analyst, and through tireless hard work, you’ll work your way up to board member and CEO of the strongest bank in the country.” Yet, Daniel’s resume isn’t a sketch; it’s a real career.

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Sustainability is an opportunity. Not just for humankind, but also for your business

This should be taken for granted: “Sustainability is no longer a choice — it’s survival.” And far from regarding sustainability as a drain on resources globally recognized companies such as Booking.com, Uber, and Starbucks, have all seen exponential growth through putting sustainability models at the core of their business. And in so doing altering the landscape of their particular industry.

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Innovation — it's more than just a buzzword

“If creativity is about inventing new things, then innovation is about making them real,” said the American economist, Theodore Levitt. Is that right and does Creative Dock's statement Creation by Doing correspond to reality? We sat down with Linda Armbruster, Director of Innovation at Creative Dock to get her perspective on innovation and impact.

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Corporate venture building is out to save the world. No, really

Combine the vast resources of a corporate and the speedy and disruptive spirit of a startup and what do you get? Powerful, innovative solutions at scale to solve our most pressing problems. It’s really that simple, and it’s what corporate venture builder Creative Dock has set out to do.

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Can trading your idea on the market show its future success? You bet.

“Only time will tell. We will see. Let’s hope.” Those are the words running through many a managers' head when deciding what innovations their company will invest in. But imagine having a tool that helps you choose which of your services are worth investing in, or which of your innovations are less likely to gain traction. Now imagine that such a thing exists. It’s called Ideapoly® and it is built and run by the European company IdeaSense, now part of Creative Dock Group.

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5 key elements that drive innovation and growth in a business

Since the pandemic, we have observed a steady recovery and steep rise in corporate venture building, especially innovative ideas that are constantly responding to changes in technology, and filling in the market gaps. However, as the reality of growing a business is not a bed of roses, not all companies are successful in executing their plans. In this 3 min read, we explore the core factors that could make or break a company.

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Name entity recognition in the insurance industry: a case study

Companies from a wide variety of domains like insurance, real estate, or medical institutions are concerned with the complexity of retrieving specific information from documents. This has become a major problem in recent years with the digitalization of documents and the enormous amount of data exchanged between businesses.

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Size does matter. A success story of growth. Kick-started through acquisitions

Organic growth is great. But it’s time-consuming. And if you want to expand, you can’t invest years just to establish your business in each new market. “We needed to accelerate our growth and impact, to increase our expertise and service portfolio. Rapidly. Such a thing is only possible by well-selected acquisitions,” says Martin Pejsa, Creative Dock’s CEO. And it was actually these successful acquisitions that turned his European corporate venture builder into the largest independent player in its category — rivaling the venture-building activities of the “Big Four”.

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Navigating the multi-crisis environment and where artificial intelligence fits in

“Societies and businesses around the globe are facing unprecedented challenges and the threat of prolonged difficulties — be they related to war, climate, energy, inflation, etc. But despite these gloomy perspectives, Davos turned into cautious optimism among executives leaders, as the global economic outlook for the year ahead looked better than feared. Large corporations can play a major role in overcoming these hurdles,” Martin Pejsa, founder and executive chairman of corporate venture builder Creative Dock, said at the event hosted by Creative Dock and Roland Berger at the margins of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023.

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Why is the MENA region a leader in digitalisation? Thanks to smartphones

When you say you’re building fintech in the Middle East, Westerners usually think of the strict Sharia banking rules and think it must be terribly complicated. But when you build ventures for banks in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), you’re in for exactly the opposite type of culture shock. E-Government there has made such progress during Covid-19 that we can be envious. Even financial applications under the tightest security are simpler, more user-friendly, and faster.

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