Structural Dynamics

Organizations of any type facing complex issues critical to their success and survival need something more than strategic intuition and a bit of luck. Structural Dynamics is a uniquely powerful, experiential approach to strategic thinking, planning and action. It uses systems analysis to develop plausible images of the future that provide the means to identify robust strategies, take action with confidence and develop learning organizations.

Moving into the Future with Confidence

Structural Dynamics is a strategic process that Convenes a team of strategic thinkers who move through four phases:

– Exploring
– Discovering
– Embodying
– Sustaining

Revelations in one area could lead forward or may lead back to a previous space to revise, expand and/or deepen the thinking.   Here’s a quick look at these steps.


The organization determines the need for a strategic initiative that is as dynamic as its environment. The team is comprised of strategic thinkers from all levels and parts of the organization, and may include customers, suppliers and others who care deeply about the organization’s health and success. A diversity of knowledge, views and opinion sparks the process, stretches thinking and strengthens the outcomes. The team's first task is to consider what brought them together. They frame the strategic issue that will keep the process focused.

The team gathers to consider the issue.  They explore beneath the surface of events to understand the patterns, structure and mental models underlying these events.

Events – Drawing upon their own knowledge, that of their constituents and reliable sources, the team identifies the many external events, which, if they occurred, would have a significant impact
on the focal issue.  What’s going on and what might happen?  Which of these events are inevitable?  Which are highly uncertain?  Which are critical to the issue at hand?

Patterns – The team determines how the most critical and the most uncertain events and variables have been trending over time.  They recognize patterns by determining what is causing these trends and what these trends are impacting.

Structure – The team depicts the cause and effect relationships between these factors – what each impacts and what it is impacted by.  This system of interconnected patterns reveals the underlining structure driving events. 

Myths & Metaphors – The team realizes that our cultural and cognitive filters affect what we see and how we see it.  These filters impact which factors we place in the model and the causal relations that we recognize between these factors.  Careful consideration and strategic conversation can help to recognize these mental models and arrive at a shared vision.


The structural model that the team develops represents the facts driving the system.  We call it a Game Board because validates multiple points of view and lets strategic thinkers experience a wide range of possible future condistions in order to test their assumptions and mental models. 

The Game Board is the heart of the Structural Dynamics process.  The forces depicted in the system are durable, they existed in the past, persist in the present and are likely to endure in the future.  With this broad range of future possibilities represented as four archetypal scenarios, the team is ready to Discover the organizations strategic options.

Throughout the Structural Dynamics initiative, the team is continually communicating within the organization – upward, downward and sideways – seeking both feedback and support.

Scenarios – The team articulates a set of distinct, plausible images of the future based on the structure they have laid out in the Game Board for several critical uncertainties.  These scenarios include social, economic, technical, political, aesthetic and environmental conditions.

Strategies – For each scenario, the team “lives” in that future long enough to discover the most effective action for the organization to take in that set of conditions. The strategies devised for each of the scenarios are stress-tested to see how they work in the other scenarios.  Strategies that which work well [often for very different reasons] in a wide range of future conditions are “robust” – others may be contingent on a particular set of conditions occuring.  The team also stress tests any existing strategies that the organization is considering or implementing.The most robust strategies and some contingency plans become the strategic direction of the organization.  The organization is prepared to move forward with confidence.  It’s options have been determined and the choice is clear.  So let’s go!


The entire Structural Dynamic initiative has been documented and made availalble internally in the form of an electronic “playbook.”  The organizational strategies are now available to everyone in the organization along with the knowledge of how they were discovered and a sense of ownership in each person’s contribution to the process.  It’s time to articulate the operational plans for all parts of the organization that align with these strategies.  The plans are tied to the financial planning process and the annual budget in suport of the organization’s strategic direction.  

Action Plans – To ensure that they are aligned and moving in the same direction, the components of the organization adapt the organizational strategies to their own domains.  They do not develop plans that simply optimize their own performance: they must act in concert with the whole. 

Signposts, Warnings and Indicators – The team prepares to track events and the impact of the organization’s strategic actions.  They determine what to measure to encourage and assess results; and which signposts, warnings and indicators to monitor to keep tabs on changes in the external environment and internal results. 
It’s important to keep a close eye on the impact of the organization’s strategic actions both internally and externally.   By continually measuring results internally, monitoring external events, and checking assumptions, the organization is ready to respond rapidly as the future unfolds.  It is a dynamic world out there; so it is critical to continually monitor events and be ready to modify or change course entirely as conditions require.  Using Structural Dynamics will be a competitive advantage because the organization has explored a broad range of possibilities, discovered strategic responses and can take action much faster than those who rely on a single view of the future and find themselves caught off guard.  Those who have not anticipated these possibilities are likely to be left in the dust.  The results of the Structural Dynamics initiative provide learning for the next round of exploration, discovery and embodiment.
The Structural Dynamics process will lead an organization to a course of action that it can be confident about implementing.  Art of the Future has applied Structural Dynamics to multiple strategic issues and has a particular focus on Life Sustaining Organizations – magnetic organizations that people love to join and hate to leave.  High levels of productivity, enhanced performance, and the ability to attract and hold creative talent characterize life-sustaining organizations.  The experiential learning derived through the Structural Dynamics initiative  develops Anticipatory Leadership throughout the organization. 

We lay out the Structural Dynamics process and its connection to life-sustaining organizations and anticipatory leaders in much more detail in our book. 

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