Preparing for an uncertain future

N°291a – Synopsis (8p.) – Uncertainty
Preparing for an uncertain future
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In times of turmoil and strong uncertainty, how can you manage beyond simply coping with the situation? One solution consists in accepting the inevitable nature of uncertainty: the challenge comes not in minimizing it, but in managing it.

Should we give up on making long-term projections when the future is undecipherable? Shaping a vision for the company and making structuring choices is really at the heart of a leader’s mission. Without a clear target, it becomes difficult to mobilize the teams, to allocate the resources or to adopt a distinctive positioning on the market. Yet, companies have been hit over the past few years by a string of extraordinary events. They have had to review their plans so often that even the usefulness of them has been questioned. Technological disruptions have dramatically affected entire sectors, with phenomena of acceleration, convergence and disintermediation that were difficult to anticipate. The “black swans”, those unlikely events with devastating consequences, came one after the other at a disconcerting pace: tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and Japan, Eyjafjöll Islandic volcano eruption, 9/11 attacks, Covid-19 pandemic…

In such a situation, planning over the long term seems not only difficult, but almost dangerous. What would happen if the company committed its resources to pursue a vision that could suddenly prove impossible because of an unforeseeable shock? What if the market became infatuated of a different technology from the one that was set to stand out? In a context now branded as “VUCA” (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), wouldn’t the new role of a leader be that of adopting a more pragmatic and more agile approach? To mobilize on projects that are achievable rather than on uncertain visions? To continuously observe the market and constantly adapt, rather than planning for the long term? Such a posture effectively seems to fit the current economic environment better. Yet, there is a real risk of getting locked into a permanent cycle of tactical adjustments, and of losing any form of ability to impact on a future in the making.

An alternative lies in the ability not to give up on preparing for the future, but at becoming less vulnerable to the unforeseen by actively managing the uncertainty that surrounds any vision. Working on multiple scenarios, challenging the hypotheses that underline our strategies, regularly reviewing their relevance, driving several time perspectives in parallel… Here are a few pieces of advice to maintain your decision-making capability even in such turbulent times.

In this synopsis:
– Using scenarios wisely
– Accepting and thinking the uncertainty to better manage it
– Refining your weak signals detection

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