Purpose – The objective of this paper is to make a case for a scenaric stance that holds high road and low road futures in mind at once. Opening with regrets about the total eclipse of Utopian thinking, the paper aims to move on to embrace both aspirational futures and a forthright recognition of the many ways in which things could go wrong. Adopting a scenaric stance amounts to a new, fourth attitude toward historical time and the future. The ancients lived in an ahistorical, cyclical time. Second, modernity embraced a progressive and optimistic approach to the future. Third, post-modernity turns pessimistic about the future. Fourth, a new scenaric stance vindicates Utopian optimism by pairing it with a forthright recognition of pessimistic possibilities.
Design/methodology/approach – This is a reflective, almost philosophical paper that articulates a new attitude toward the future, which demonstrates the significance of scenario planning for attitudes toward the future.
Findings – A scenaric stance can restore the liberatory potential of Utopian thinking by yoking optimistic, aspirational futures together with a clear-eyed recognition of the several ways that plans can misfire.
Research limitations/implications – This is a philosophical, reflective piece that does not rely on any quantitative evidence or rigorous modeling.
Practical implications – The practical implications are major: to the extent that the health of the economy relies on confidence and a willingness to take risks, a lemming-like race to the bottom will result in a Japan-like endless recession. A vindication is needed for aspirational scenarios.
Social implications – Everyone is better off when fewer people are living in crouch.
Originality/value – After three decades of reviewing and contributing to the literature on future studies, the author has seen nothing that remotely resembles the argument of this paper. Its value consists in its potential for lifting people's sights. One stands in danger of a loss of confidence and an endless recession. One needs to restore a sense of possibility and optimism, but can do so responsibly only if one holds on to an honest sense of the real dangers one faces.