How Strategic Thinking Techniques Could Have Saved the Bay Lights


The Bay Bridge is currently lit up by an $8 million light show, The Bay Lights. Watching it from Coit Tower, one will see a wave of colorful lights, timed to illuminate the bay on different spans of the bridge. Unfortunately, only a few months after the installation opened, the light display is encountering technical difficulties. KTVU reported that many of the 25,000 LED lights on display are either not turning on or unable to turn off. Although there are many technical reasons that caused this issue, applying strategic thinking techniques before installation, could have saved the light show from malfunctioning. Specifically, Developing Scenarios, one of the nine strategic thinking steps facilitated during the Barnes & Conti Strategic Thinking workshops, would have been a good step to take.

The Bay Bridge with new lights
The Bay Bridge

Developing scenarios involves making better decisions about the future by imagining and exaggerating possible scenarios. Going through this strategic thinking stage could have helped guide the Bay Lights development team in considering what issues might have occurred that would effect the lights such as wind, bridge vibrations, or wiring.

Scenario development is a complex process that often involves a seasoned professional, lots of research and a good deal of money. However, you can adapt the practice to your own team and use it as a planning tool. Below is the step-by-step process to follow when practicing the Developing Scenarios tool. Try it with your team and let us know the solutions it helped you create.

Key Factors:

What will have an impact on the future of your issue that you are not in control of?

  • List possible factors; then select two or three that are very important to your success.
  • Identify the range of possible outcomes of these factors that you can imagine. Three that are often chosen include:
  1. Growth scenario (more of the same, but better).
  2. Decay scenario (change for the worse)
  3. Opportunity scenario (disruptive but potentially positive shift)
  • Consider how those key factors might play out. Decide what would you need to do in order to succeed/survive in these scenarios. This process is sometimes called a “pre-mortem.”

Remember, success is not so much dependent on the way the key factors play out, but on the way your organization prepares and responds. We don’t know, of course, whether the design team for the Bay Lights did any scenario planning – but if they didn’t, we hope they will practice strategic thinking from here forward so that the beautiful light show becomes an even greater success.



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