Concluding Remarks

Concluding Remarks

The scenarios project represented a forum within the 21st Century Initiative for MIT faculty and researchers to reflect upon how the organizations of the future might work. The scenarios project's intention was to provide a setting in which structured, informed speculation about possibilities for the future could occur. The hope was that this work would allow the choices which shape the future to be made in a more thoughtful and considered manner.


This chapter is an abridged version of MIT 21st Century Initiative Working Paper #001, January 1997. The full text of the working paper is available at

The lead authors are grateful to members of the Scenarios Working Group for their contributions to the project. The members, and their MIT affiliations, were:

Scenario Creation Group

  • Erik Brynjolfsson (Information Technology)

  • John Carroll (Organizational Studies)

  • Donald Lessard (Strategy)

  • Stuart Madnick (Information Technology)

  • Thomas Malone (Information Technology)

  • Wanda Orlikowski (Information Technology)

  • Sandy Pentland (Media Laboratory)

  • Paul Resnick (Information Technology)

  • Jack Rockart (Information Technology)

  • Michael Scott Morton (Strategy)

  • Maureen Scully (Industrial Relations)

  • David Tennenhouse (Laboratory for Computer Science)

Scenario Review Group

  • Deborah Ancona (Organizational Studies)

  • Lotte Bailyn (Organizational Studies)

  • Charles Fine (Operations Management)

  • Mauro Guillén (Organizational Studies)

  • Rebecca Henderson (Strategy)

  • Richard Locke (Industrial Relations)

  • Thomas Magnanti (Operations Research)

  • Daniel Nyhart (Law)

  • William Ocasio (Organizational Studies)

  • JoAnne Yates (Communications)

We also thank Peter Schwartz, CEO of Global Business Network, for his contributions as facilitator of the Working Group.

Special thanks go to Robert Russman Halperin, who as Executive Director of the 21st Century Initiative, helped launch the scenario project and see it through its first two years.

The scenarios project was made possible by the financial support of the following 21st Century Initiative's sponsors:

Founding Sponsors

  • British Telecom

  • EDS/A.T. Kearney

  • National Westminster Bank

Major Sponsor

  • Union Bank of Switzerland

Regular Sponsors

  • AMP

  • Eli Lilly

  • LG Electronics

  • McKinsey & Company

  • Siemens Nixdorf

  • Siemens PCN

We also express gratitude to the many executives from sponsor firms and other companies, as well as scholars and experts from a variety of institutions, who commented on earlier versions of the MIT scenarios. In particular, we thank those who attended the MIT Industrial Liaison scenarios program in May 1994, the Sloan-Price Waterhouse Thought Summit in October 1994 and the MIT-Global Business Network WorldView meeting in November 1995.

We are also grateful to Charlie Fine, Bill Hanson, Bengt Holmström, Thomas Kochan, Wanda Orlikowski, and Jack Rockart of the Sloan faculty, David Tennenhouse of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, and Sloan doctoral students Andreas Gast and Albert Wenger, who generously commented on early drafts of this paper. The work was also informed by discussions in the 21st Century Initiative faculty seminar on Inter-organizational Relationships held during the Spring of 1996.


  1. The MIT Scenario Working Group was comprised of a Scenario Creation and Scenario Review Group. Members of the two groups are listed in the acknowledgements.

  2. On the history and methods of scenario planning, see Wack (1985a, 1985b); de Gues (1988); and Schwartz (1991). Kleiner (1996a) gives a brief history of the rise of scenario planning at Shell and its continuation by many of the Shell practitioners through their work at Global Business Network.

  3. Several of the events where the 21st Century Initiative scenarios were discussed are described in Halperin (1994); CEO Thought Summit (1995); and Kleiner (1996b).

  4. The narrative descriptions of both scenarios included in this chapter are excerpted and adapted from a report on a meeting jointly sponsored by the 21st Century Initiative and Global Business Network in November 1995; see Kleiner (1996b, 5–7).

  5. An early version of the automobile industry scenario set out here appears in Malone (1993).

  6. On the film industry in the vertically-integrated studio era, see Schatz (1988) and Bordwell et al. (1985); on the post-studio era, see Lewis (1985) and Pierson (1996). The Prato region's textile industry is described in Enright (1995); Jaikumar (1986); and Voss (1994). The apparel industry's structure is recounted in Voss (1994), and Silicon Valley practices are discussed in Saxenian (1994) and Jackson (1996).

  7. Sloan faculty member Maureen Scully created a series of vignettes dramatizing the possible fate of several character types—authoritarian CEO, "enlightened" senior manager, engineer, vocational trainer, unemployed inner city resident—under the two MIT scenarios, and these were presented, with the parts played by professional actors, at the MIT Industrial Liaison Program Symposium in May 1994; see Scully (1994).

  8. The literature on unions and other organizations created by the industrial working class is vast. Two classic works addressing the early years of the industrial era are Thompson (1964) and Foner (1970).

  9. The term "virtual countries" was brought to the attention of the MIT Scenario Working Group by executives at National Westminster Bank, one of the 21st Century Initiative's founding sponsors. The term was then used inside NatWest to refer to an organization that now possesses or might in the future attain some of the important characteristics of a nation-state. The European Union, for example, was referred to as a "virtual country" within NatWest. The NatWest usage was thus somewhat broader and more general than the quite specific meaning applied to the term in the MIT scenarios.

  10. See Kramer (1997); cited figures were based on global data collected by Securities Data Company on merger and acquisition activity, joint ventures and partnerships and venture funding.

  11. Taylor (1991) discusses ABB's practices. The 21st Century Initiative's Interesting Organizations project examined GE and Johnson & Johnson; on the database, see chapter 7 of this volume. Bartlett and Ghoshal (1993) suggest that the innovative organizational forms put in place in recent years at ABB and a handful of other firms—GE, 3M, Toyota, Canon—represent a new model likely to replace the multidivisional structure that has been dominant for the last half-century.

  12. The notion of a taboo against marriage between employees of different firms was explored by the science fiction writer William Gibson in his futuristic novel Neuromancer; see Gibson (1984).

  13. The idea of employee election of managers was developed in detail by Bruce Sterling in his science fiction novel, Islands in the Net; see Sterling (1989).

  14. On the growing influence of institutional investors, see Useem (1996). Another testament to the increasing assertiveness of employee pension fund managers is a piece by the general counsel of CALPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System, contending that the pension funds' longer investment horizons will eventually prevail over the short-termism that resulted in the "hollowing out" of many U.S. companies in the 1990s. See Koppes (1996).

  15. ESOP figures from National Center for Employee Ownership; see

  16. Whyte and Whyte (1991) give an account of the rise and development of the Mondragón cooperatives. Thomas and Logan (1982) examine the economic performance of the cooperatives.

  17. The seminal work on this subject in economics is Coase (1937). Williamson (1975) revisited the questions originally posed by Coase and triggered a wave of work on this set of issues. A good review of economists' work in this area is Holmström and Tirole (1989). Though he approaches the question from a different perspective, the business historian Alfred Chandler attributes the rise of the modern corporation largely to the "internalization"—for the purpose of achieving economies of various sorts—within large firms of functions formerly performed by small firms transacting in arm's-length fashion in the marketplace; see Chandler (1977).

  18. The work that initiated recent discussion about the decline of civil society was Putnam (1995). For a broad-ranging analysis of the possible causes for the decline, see Putnam (1996). Lemann (1996) presents an opposing point of view.