This past week, just when we began to feel like we were getting some visibility in the future so that we can guide and navigate our businesses to meet our aspirations, we heard about the new Covid Variant, Omicron. The immediate impact on executives is that the visibility for the future began to get opaque.
Just before the WHO announcement last Friday, we had a line of sight, believing steadfastly that the clouds were beginning to clear, that we were almost able to start making choices with some emerging insight into the future.
However, that vision has gotten opaque. With opacity, the challenge now becomes, how do you create visibility for the future when there is very little visibility?
In reality, there is no future that we can predict, there never was true predictability. This is even more amplified during times of turmoil, disruption, and rapid change. We certainly are in one of those eras. Everything is changing, from the digitalization of our businesses, the availability of supply, and even the talent challenges posed by “the great resignation” and the demand for more work flexibility. In this world, we must give up trying to predict. If I had more time, I would even convince you that predictability was also a myth.
To manage the future, as leaders we need to take our attention off of predictability and visibility as a means of making bets for the future.
When you think about it, our job as executives has always been to make bets for the future. We have always had to make choices with the consideration of probabilities and risks. We wager that something is going to happen or not happen. In times of opacity the risk is enhanced, however, being decisive and focused may give you better access to the upside of the risk. In order to place bets about the future, we need to begin by committing the aspirations for our business.
Before you begin, make sure there is clarity and alignment in your organization, and among your leadership team, on your overall ambitions and aspirations. While the tendency is to want to be more conservative during times of uncertainty, what really works at these times is boldness. Take the time with your executive team, your extended stakeholders, and formulate and get clear on the bold ambitions you have for your business. An aspiration for your business that’s bold and exciting makes a difference for your stakeholders, your customers, your employees, and your investors.
Once you have your ambition and aspiration, I invite you to consider and spend time delving into four different scenarios for the future.
What is likely to happen, are two of the four scenarios. “Likely,” in this scenario, is defined by what might happen or be true; probable if things continue along as anticipated. In these likely scenarios, you explore:
1.) What is likely to happen that will have a negative impact on your ambition and your aspiration. You explore that scenario and identify three to five top trends, events, or happenings.
2.) Then you look at what’s likely to happen that is going to have a positive impact on achieving your ambitious vision or aspirations. Again, you do a deep dive into that, and you create and align on the top three to five.
Then there’s another set of scenarios. These final two scenarios are your possible futures. “Possible,” means able to happen although not certain to; denoting a fact, event, or situation that may or may not be likely or probable to occur but is certainly feasible to happen.
3.) You identify the possible future that’s going to have a negative impact on your ambition and your aspiration. Again, you pick three to five key trends, events, or happenings.
4.) Finally, you identify the possible future that will have a positive impact on your ambition or your aspiration. Pick three to five key trends, events, or happenings.
You could then investigate these four scenarios against several specific areas of the future. I do want to encourage you when you’re looking at these four scenarios (the likely negative, the likely positive, the possible negative, and the possible positive) that you might want to slice it up by different areas of the future. For example,
- What’s possible in the future for our customers? What’s likely in the future for our customers?
- What’s likely to happen that will have a negative impact or positive impact on the future of our suppliers?
- How about the future in the markets in which we operate?
You now have a pool of the likely or possible futures from which to draw and make bets. You align on four to six of those different scenarios as your bets for the future. You’re making a bet that: this is what we need to monitor and respond to in order to be successful with our ambition.
Have we gotten the clouds cleared up? Not necessarily, although in my experiences, when you do this deep dive into the different futures, something does emerge that’s pretty clear. Therefore, you have moved from peering into a crystal ball to creating visibility when there is no visibility.
In my next article, I will talk about how to take on accomplishing your ambitions on a rocky, uncharted road.