Credit Suisse: Swan, Rhino or Jellyfish?

Credit Suisse: Swan, Rhino or Jellyfish?

Sean Pillot de CheneceyHead of Foresight & Strategy, Selbey Labs
Credit Suisse: Swan, Rhino or Jellyfish?

In his highly influential book Pattern Recognition, the futurist author William Gibson states “we have no genuine idea of what the future may hold because our present is too volatile, we have only risk management and the spinning of the given moment’s scenarios”.

But as the dust continues to swirl around us following the latest example of ‘trust contagion’ that has seen another major brand evaporate at incredible speed, simultaneously wrecking shareholder value and destroying jobs, the situation also illustrates the need for leaders to think deeply about what the future may hold. They then need to have their strategic and tactical playbooks at the ready, regarding how to prepare and respond to the ways in which a volatile future may indeed impact their organisation.

This, of course, is where foresight teams come into their own, utilising a range of tried and trusted skills that have been successfully deployed across markets, sectors and geographies.

Taking a lead from an approach that was essentially started by Shell in the 1960’s, the futurist skillset as deployed by Selbey Labs can help our clients adapt, evolve and thrive, with the aim of assisting them to ‘win the future’.

Business leaders have always had to anticipate and embrace change, but today, change is further complicated by issues including time-compression and acceleration. These issues link to management theory which has long stressed that leaders have been facing volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (‘VUCA’) futures. But today, business schools also teach another acronym, where matters have been further complicated by a world that is ‘BANI’ as in brittle, anxious, nonlinear and incomprehensible.

For an immediate example of how those acronyms are reflected in real life, a quick call to anyone with senior management experience at Silicon Valley Bank, FTX or Credit Suisse, should provide an immediate case history of why it is that companies should prepare for possible future situations by conducting ongoing foresight activity.

Meanwhile, noting that new challenges call for new thinking, there’s a self-evident need for greater understanding of the role that foresight plays in strategic planning and implementation, when making strategic decisions with confidence has become increasingly difficult. Hence a recommendation not to apply old thinking to new problems, when the World Economic Forum reports that “leaders are trying to better understand new business models that will enable them to survive in a world permeated by frequent shocks”.

That’s why Selbey Labs constantly scan for emerging issues and signals of the future (from talking with social activists to innovators, policy-advisors to community-workers, journalists to investors, and many more) working on catalytic foresight and scenario planning activities that illuminate potential opportunities and threats facing businesses. 

To do so, we utilise a dynamic methodology that empowers teams and organisations to develop the insights and skills required to successfully prepare, adapt and thrive in a changing world; an approach that has been utilised and proven by a wide array of leading thinktanks and management consultancies.

However, the numerous ‘alternative futures’ that foresight-teams develop expose an in-built problem - that they cannot ‘prove’ an immediate ROI, especially when financial outputs often need to be justified in the present. Managers responsible for this type of activity therefore have to endlessly stress that their outputs are bound to illuminate uncertainty whilst avoiding rock-solid predictions.

But to answer that type of challenge, where futurists can begin to demonstrate ROI, they succeed by framing their thinking around time-horizons set as the immediate present, near future and distant future, with the need for ‘adaptive leadership’ being a core skill for leaders who need to be able to pivot and adapt to situations as they arise. 

As in creating playbooks that describe actions to be considered when brand contagion comes seemingly out of nowhere, in what may be seen as a ‘Black Swan’ moment. But which is instead more of a ‘Grey Rhino’ (and for those of us confused about AT1 additional tier one bonds, perhaps also something akin to a ‘Black Jellyfish’) as shown by the situation that confronts us today, in the context of the shotgun marriage between Credit Suisse and UBS.

The Financial Times described the situation as ‘a wake-up call which shows that even banks with apparently healthy capital and liquidity ratios can fall if confidence evaporates. Banking is a massive, complicated and delicate confidence trick. Normally it works fine. But as soon as people worry that it could fall apart, it often does, sometimes spectacularly’. And this latest example of banks being global in life but national in death is illuminated by a situation where ‘protectionism, geopolitical self-interest and state intervention seem to have over-ruled free-market principles’. 

Shape or Be Shaped – how to do it

Based on dynamic thinking from futures-thinkers, authors, academics and practitioners across an array of fields and institutions including universities, thinktanks, agencies and media organisations, Selby Labs have developed a hybrid approach that combines best-practise with the latest catalytic thinking.

Therefore, whilst we naturally adapt our methodology based on the specifics of client-projects, our core approach begins with a client presentation where we discuss an approach based around gathering research, illuminating the insights gained, developing plausible futures and generating actionable outputs. We do so noting the dynamics and catalysts of change, and how these relate to our clients, before developing a strategic response and ensuring that the outputs have direct relevance to, and link with the business. That process can then be started again, and indeed we recommend that this is indeed a rolling activity.

For specific examples of how we approach these types of foresight projects, please look out for our forthcoming foresight report (the latest in out ‘Making Sense Of’ series) which describes how Selbey Labs utilise a five-stage methodology re:

1.    Signals & Trends

2.    Scenarios & Speculation

3.    Relevance

4.    Risk

5.    Futures Outputs & Strategy

The key benefits of our foresight activity are then hopefully seen as delivering additional robustness to a business, enabling teams to see alternative views of the future, and therefore being able to plan for, and adapt to, those futures when they may arise. This essentially enables us to answer the challenge of ‘shaping the future or being shaped by it’ with confidence.

This all goes to helping our clients to ‘win the future’ by establishing trust, building resilience, reducing risk and developing breakthrough, creative thinking.  By doing so, their empowered teams and organisations are enabled to successfully adapt, evolve and thrive in a changing world. 

(‘Futures Cone’ image re: scenario planning outputs c/o T.Hancock & C. Bezold  + J. Voros)

Sean Pillot de Chenecey
Sean Pillot de Chenecey
Head of Foresight & Strategy, Selbey Labs

Sean is a strategist, author and speaker. Fascinated by the catalysts of social & cultural change, he has a deep level of knowledge re: ‘Now/Next/Why’. As a public speaker, he focuses on trust (re: his book The Post-Truth Business) and/or innovation (re: his book Influencers & Revolutionaries). His talks also link to his podcast #TheNewAbnormal.

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