Day 1 Keynote @ ICSE2010 – Clem Sunter on the mind of a fox.

Clem Sunter is an expert on scenario planning. He co-authored “Mind of the Fox” with Chantel Illbury (and some more afterwards).  As an academic I found it interesting that he met Chantel after being sent an MBA thesis to evaluate. He suggested they write a book together. Well the book was the No 1 bestseller in SA during 2002 and in 2003 came second – to Harry Potter!

Clem’s main thesis is that one should not be blind to the changing world and hang on religiously hang on to the corporate vision.  The main analogy is that of a hedgehog (just seeing one thing) or a fox (that is quite cunning and adapts to chance). He criticized people interpretation of “survival of the fittest” to mean survival of the strongest, but it is instead survival of the most agile: speed of response is the key to survival.

If you are more interested in his method of scenario planning you can actually have a look at their website

He explained some World Scenarios, but for me the interesting part is his scenarios for South Africa (I live here after all). He sees 3 possible scenarios: Second Division (poor but peaceful) with a 30% probability, Premier league (70%) or failed state (0%).  The “flag” that will have to go up to make failed state increase in probability is increased violence (as if we don’t have enough).  To stay in Premier League where he pitches us currently the flags to watch are: inclusive leadership, correcting the problems that led to SA ranking dropping significantly in 2007, and building a dual logic economy.  For the dual logic economy he sees that SA should on the outward-looking face dominate in spaces such as resources by going further downstream before exporting; tourism, also after World Cup; and being the gateway to Africa. As for the inward-facing economy they key is entrepreneurship, i.e. small businesses.

He made some nice comments to file for future re-use.  Apparently his mentor used to say “Better to be vaguely right than clearly wrong”. Not a bad credo to go by! He also joked with economist who always says “one the one hand…  on the other hand…”; people say give me a one-armed economist! Of course being a self-declared fox that joke is on him.

The talk was well delivered – he certainly has a story to tell. and since I’ve been blogging about presentation stuff a lot lately I should mention that he did not use a single slide. and nobody missed it because he had a story to tell, and people listened, they did not have to read! His timing was also impeccable – its clearly not the first time he does this 🙂


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