IAF Methods

What If?

by for . Last edit was almost 2 years ago
120 + 10 - 40
Strategic Planning
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To breakloose creative, imaginative thinking in a planning session


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  • the usual--flip charts
  • markers
  • tape
  • etc.



Setting: physical space free from distractions; need break-out spaces for each group of 8-10 persons

Number of participants: 10-40

Types of participants: those engaged in developing strategy and action planning for their operation, whatever level

Time needed: 2 hours

Ideal conditions: physical setting away from distractions

Pre-Work Required: research into some of the options for future directions that have been explored by the participating group; knowledge of level of acceptance by group members for these directions; information about fears and uncertainties for moving in these directions; creative ability to craft "what if" propositions based on findings of above

Type of Facilitator-Client Relationship: normal; need to thoroughly brief client in a collaborative way in advance to gain acceptance to use this technique

Facilitator personality fit: creative thinker

Level of Difficulty to Facilitate (to be deleted during review): Facilitation skills required


After identifying obstacles to the group's vision, and before developing strategies for overcoming the blocks in a strategic planning process, the facilitator may have the group consider several "what if's" to shake loose their imagination before developing strategies. Example: two groups were planning a merger where one group was focused primarily on research and the other on working collabortively with partners doing direct implementation. Both groups feard their current focus and mode of operating would be lost when the merger took place. A "what if" exercise had several topics for exploration: "What if everyone were engaged in research?" "What if everyone worked through partners?" "What if partners spent 30% of their time doing research?" etc. Each What If was given to a small group to work through the following questions: 1. What would it look like to operate this way? 2. How would this be different from now? 3. What would be the benefit of operating this way? 4. What would have to be in place to make this work?


Follow-Up Required: Careful note taking during the reports from each group; documenting the reports; and debriefing conversation at the end of each what if report to identify the key elements that would be worth incorporating in the strategy development phase of the planning.

Usual or Expected Outcomes: participants see opportunities and discover new perspectives or strategic options not seen before

Potential pitfalls: unwillingness to go into the land of "what if????"

How success is evaluated: elements of the "what if" thinking show up in the actual strategy development

Examples of successes and failures: an organisation that was facing an uncertain future with fear and anxiety explored some what if's that freed them from their anxieties about worst case scenarios


Source: LENS International Malaysia, Ann Epps

Derived from: own creation adapted from De Bono "what if" thinking

Recognizable components: Generating "what if" alternatives in strategy development

References: Generating "what if" alternatives in strategy development

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