ABCD Strategic Planning Towards Sustainablity and Dragon Dreaming
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Backcasting-ABCD planning

ABCD Strategic Planning Towards Sustainablity and Dragon Dreaming

In these years as a Dragon Dreaming trainer I have assisted many people to create projects to unleash a win-win-win culture that would help society to move towards sustainability.

Projects for a win-win-win culture are those framed by 3 principles: personal growth, community building and service to the earth. These 3 principles act as the cornerstones for building projects that seek for change in the world and that help people and organisations to move towards a sustainable society.

However, in all these years I have faced several challenges to make these projects successful. When I use the term successful I mean that people manage to commit to these 3 principles and are successful in overcoming the challenges that come with working with the principles. Working in teams is a difficult task in itself. In a highly competitive modern society, values like cooperation, transparency, honesty, vulnerability and caring for the earth are highly neglected. Therefore, projects built on a win-win-win culture are difficult to achieve.

Nevertheless, Dragon Dreaming methodology, as many other newly born project design tools, is constantly growing in alignment with the emerging needs of the current complex society we live in.

This article seeks to bring a new approach to Dragon Dreaming, as a project design tool, to improve some specific areas, especially the ones related to the Dreaming and Planning phases.

ABCD strategic planning process:

This new approach comes from a strategic planning tool called the ABCD planning. This tool is a key part of the strategic planning process towards sustainability included in the 5 level framework for planning in complex systems, which has been developed by an international organisation called The Natural Step.  

This 5 level framework, as well as the ABCD planning, have been implemented in many organisations like Patagonia, Marks and Spencer, Electrolux or Volvo assisting them in the development of successful sustainability strategic plans.

The 5 level framework consists of the following levels: System, Success, Strategic, Actions and Tools. However, for the purpose of this article, I will just focus on the strategic level, where the ABCD planning is the tool used.

Therefore, how do we strategically plan in our projects to move towards a sustainable society?

The ABCD letters correspond to 4 different stages that our organisation needs to go thorugh in order to plan strategically towards sustainability. This ABCD planning uses backasting from principles as the approach for building the desired future.

Backasting approach for Strategic Planning

Backasting is different from forecasting. Forecasting has been for many years the most used tool in project planning for organisations. Forecasting works with the organisation´s current situation and plans accordingly given those circumstances for an “expected” future. Backasting works the opposite way. We need to place our organisation in the future by visioning the reality we want to create and therefore plan to reach our vision.

Humanity is now facing the most challenging times ever faced, as social, economic and environmental problems are putting at risk our existence and of future generations. Therefore, planning with a forecasting approach makes no sense, as the problems we are facing are complex and demand innovation and creative solutions. This is why a backasting is essential as it helps to face complex problems that demand major changes when dominant trends are troubles in itself.

Before we move into the ABCD process more in depth, I would like to comment the importance of building a great Dream Team. As Collins and Porras explained in their excellent article “Building a Company´s vision”, “Imagine that you’ve been asked to re-create the very best attributes of your organization on another planet but you have seats on the rocket ship for only five to seven people. Whom should you send? Most likely, you’ll choose the people who have a gut-level understanding of your core values, the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest levels of competence”; these should be the people that you would include in your dream team (Collins and Porras, 1996).

In order to strategically plan and act for a desired future our team plays a key role. Who would you like to be in that rocket ship with?


Once you have selected them, the planning can start:

1. The A Step: Strategic planning from the vision.

As Peter Senge states in his book, the 5th Discipline, building a company´s vision is finding the reason for existence of the organisation, its emerging purpose. Visions that tap in the deeper and real sense of purpose of the organisation and design action goals to reach that vision, have the power to unleash commitment and trustworthiness. Building a shared vision is an ongoing process where people at all levels of the organisation should take part. It is important that a safe place is created so these people can speak from the heart and express what is really important for them; this will empower the results. (Senge 2006, 299)


So, what makes a good vision?

Dragon Dreaming projects should include 3 key components when designing a project vision:

1) Dragon Dreaming principles: personal growth, community building as service to the earth. These three will frame the organisation´s vision.

2) The core ideology: that consists of 2 parts, the core values and the core purpose. (Collins and Porras, 1996)

The core purpose responds to the following question: (Robert et al, 2015, 140)

Why this organisation exists? What is the service that we provide to society?

The core purpose communicates the organisation´s timeless benefits for society, its real importance for existence. It should be attractive, brief and clear. A good purpose reflects people´s motivation for doing the company´s work. It should last 100 years and inspire change.

Think of it as if you would wake up tomorrow with enough money in the bank to retire, what would be the reasons that would make you continue working in that organisation?

Sony´s Core Purpose
To experience the sheer joy of innovation and the application of technology for the benefit and pleasure of the general public. (Collins and Porras, 1996)
The core values define what the organisations stands for.
What are the values that this organisation guards at its core? What is important for us?
The core values are the personality of the organisations as opposed to what it does. These values should pass the test of time, meaning that if the company´s circumstances would change, these values wouldn’t. Therefore, values don’t adapt to current market trends.
It is recommended to have between three and five, not more.
Sony´s Core Values (Collins and Porras, 1996)
• Elevation of the Japanese culture and national status
• Being a pioneer—not following others; doing the impossible
• Encouraging individual ability and creativity


3) The envisioned future.
In contrast to the core ideology, the envisioned future can be flexible and adaptative, although always aligned with the long lasting core ideology.
The envisioned future consists of two parts: a 10 to 30 years audacious goal plus a vivid description of what would mean to achieve that goal. It should be vivid and real as well as show the dreams, hopes and aspirations. (Collins and Porras, 1996)
The Audacious goals are called Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG´s) or stretch goals as the company might not be sure if they can be achieved. However, they should push forward a highly motivational creative tension. (Robert et al, 2015, 141)
A true BHAG requires thinking beyond the current capabilities of the organisation. It should require extraordinary efforts and also a little luck. (Collins and Porras, 1996)
The vivid description: It should be vibrant, engaging, and with an specific description of what it will be like to achieve that BHAG.
According to the Hedgehog concept, the envisioned future with its BHAG´s should be in the centre of the organisations operations when we have answered these 3 questions:
· What can we be the best at in the world? (Core Purpose)
· What are we deeply passionate about? (Core values)
· What drives our economic engine?


My suggestion here is to change the generative question for Dragon Dreaming´s dream circle from:
How should this project be like so I can say that it has been the best investment of my time and energy?
How should this project be like so it can be the best for the world while driving sufficient economic returns to be sustainable? What would drive my passion to work in this project?


Sony´s Envisioned future: (Collins and Porras, 1996)
Become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products
Vivid Description
We will create products that become pervasive around the world… We will be the first Japanese company to go into the U.S. market and distribute directly… We will succeed with innovations that U.S. companies have failed at—such as the transistor radio… Fifty years from now, our brand name will be as well known as any in the world…and will signify innovation and quality that rival the most innovative companies anywhere… “Made in Japan” will mean something fine, not something shoddy.
Now that we understand better how to design a good vision from our project, we need to backcast to understand with is our organisation´s current reality, to identify the creative tension between the present and where the organisations strives to be.


2. The B Step: Current reality analysis(Robert et al, 2015, 141)

The analysis of the current reality must consist of several parts.
1. Exterior world analysis:
We need to carry out a PESTLE analysis to identify what Political, Economic, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors might influence our company to reach its vision.
It is also important to map out all the stakeholders that are connected or not yet to our organisation´s activities. The purpose is to find which stakeholders are helping or hindering the organisation to reach its vision. What relationships are weak or strong in order to identify key leverage points.
2. Operational analysis:
Here we need to observe how our project is already aligned with the Dragon Dreaming principles, thus identifying which operational aspects within our organisation can be blocking us from living up to those principles.
At the same time, it is also important to identify which internal operational aspects of can block us from living up to our core values, purpose and envisioned future.
The B Step concludes with a SWOT analysis that summarises the current reality of the organisation.
The C Step and D Step will follow soon.


ABCD planning


Article by:

Julia Ramos Puente

Unleashing collective intelligence for life changing entertainment events
Desatando la inteligencia colectiva en eventos que cambien tu vida.




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