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Reminiscing About the Future


And the Sustainable Risk Management Process


A couple of weeks ago my wife and I dug out our old photo albums (maybe some of you remember life before digital photography). We spent a wonderful evening literally paging through our past, reminiscing about when our kids born and how they grew up, laughing at our hair styles and outfits, seeing old friends and relatives again and reflecting on our years together. As we reminisced, the path our lives followed became very clear. We talked about the good and the bad, the changes that brought us to where we are today.


Reminiscing is more than a nostalgic journey through time. It is an affirmation of life and culture, a scenario that became reality. It is also a tool that can be turned inside out and used to create a strategy to manage risks and maximize sustainable opportunities. Part of the Sustainable Risk Management (SRM) Process is to build scenarios that test and support our personal and organizational strategies and plans. Scenario building is one of the most important tools to identify risks and develop plans to achieve desired opportunities.

Scenarios are an excellent way to merge risk management and sustainability thinking into cohesive personal and business plans and strategies, but they have limitations. They can be somewhat myopic as the focus is often on a single factor or event. As we peer over the horizon we know that the future is a complex web of interlocking, interdependent forces. Big data practitioners and super computers still struggle to understand these intricacies and make accurate predictions. However for our modest purposes scenarios can reveal risks and opportunities we might not have yet identified.

A slightly different approach to scenarios, turning them inside out, is called “reminiscing about the future”. Developed by Bob MacDonald, an insurance executive, reminiscing about the future begins at the end by proposing that you have just achieved one of your strategic objectives and speculating about what you did to make it happen. In the context of the SRM, the exercise involves gathering all of your key stakeholders (or risk committee), outline the goal that you wish to explore and what achieving it will mean to your organization. Then develop a scenario in which you work backwards and reminisce about how you were successful. What went right, what barriers did you encounter, how do you overcome them, what planed and unanticipated risks did you run into and what unexpected opportunities did you discover? The end product is a detailed road map of a path you might take to be successful.

If your goal is to reduce your organizations’ waste by 90% this approach can broaden your perspective about the tactics and plans you need to achieve that objective. When you start at the end, you are better able to burst through self imposed limitations and preconceived notions that might not otherwise be tested. You might come up with out of the box solutions to your waste problem, like installing vermiculture bins for organic waste and using the compost to fertilize the office plants.

One of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits” is to begin with the end in mind. Reminiscing about the future takes this a few steps further by challenging your imagination to look at how you achieved that end before you begin your journey.

Reminiscing about the future is one of many tools in the Sustainable Risk Management Process. It certainly is not the only one, but it is a way to gain a different perspective on the risks you need to manage and the opportunities you wish to achieve. For a more detailed discussion please see this article in the Harvard Business Review.

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