5.3 Introduction to Islands in the Sky
Islands in the Sky is a situational awareness and scenario-based strategic planning tool that is especially useful for managing uncertainty. It is designed for structuring conversations about the future business environment to inform decision-making in the present. This allows a voice for everyone and for things to get done quickly. It might not be perfect, but it helps form a base from which we can learn and iteratively develop.
The approach encourages you to bring a range of voices into the conversation and to consider different cultural and social values. Different lived experiences and perceptions of reality are all considered to navigate what the most important things are in a culture, society or organisation.
Individuals and/or teams are brought together to explore the environment and consider the future. This normally takes place in a workshop, and it is recommended that you either do this remotely or face to face, rather than hybrid. You then work through a series of stages, using collaboration tools to input into the sessions.
Activity 16 Riding a bicycle
In the video below, Dr Matt Finch (Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School) explains the Islands in the Sky approach and how it can help with navigating uncertain futures and understanding your transactional relationships with an introduction from Professor Rafael Ramírez.
1. As you watch the video, think about the following question posed by Matt at the end of the video:
How do I go beyond expectation and the things I currently anticipate – even beyond my hopes and fears – to really see how the future could be different, in ways that previously lay in my blind spot? (Extract from Video 14)
Transcript: Video 14 Introduction to Islands in the Sky
Rafael states that this methodology expects action learning, where you give it a try and make a few mistakes, using the riding a bicycle analogy that is similar to this kind of learning – if you fall off, you get back on and try again.
2. Think about the statement by Rafael and the bicycle analogy, and how might this help you be aware of your blind spots. Consider how open to action learning for uncertain futures you are. Then vote in poll below:
How comfortable you feel with this approach will depend on your experience of managing uncertainty and change. In an organisational setting where we often have little control over the strategic direction and organisational objectives, uncertainty can be a common feeling.
This approach can help with managing your feelings towards uncertainty by reframing the context and helping you feel more comfortable with the unknown. Similar to if you learned to ride a bicycle – the first time you tried you had no idea what it would feel like, but as your ability and confidence grows, you are willing to try new things. How many of you tried this as a child, or are even now still trying, to ride your bike with no hands?
In the introduction to Islands in the Sky, Matt and Rafael discuss the need to consider your transactional relationships, against a backdrop of rapid change and uncertainty, where you can’t see what tomorrow is going to hold. They refer to ‘TUNA’ conditions – turbulence, uncertainty, novelty and ambiguity. You started thinking about these in Activity 16. Below, Table 6 provides more information about TUNA conditions. These conditions take a systems thinking approach and can enable teams/organisations to develop their situational awareness, and better understand the context they are operating in to create a better future.
|Turbulence||Uncertainty||Novelty (& unique)||Ambiguity|
|Speed of change, with high complexity and uncertainty.||Uncertainty is unpredictable, disruptive and can be uncontrollable.||Response to situations that are both imaginable and unimaginable that require new concepts, technologies and approaches.||Managing and understanding different interpretations of situations, often when there is little or contradictory information available.|
In Video 15 ‘Working with uncertainty’, Dr Matt Finch explains that when we are operating in times of unpredictable uncertainty, and we cannot draw on data or our experience of similar situations, then we have to find vantage points from which to draw.