THINK BUSINESS — Managing Unpredictability By Mark Richardson

In business and in life, we plan. We plan based on what we want to accomplish. These plans take into account where we are today and what we think we can do.

For these plans to be meaningful, we must also look at history. This history addresses the playing field moving forward. Is the playing field one of stormy conditions or is it smooth sailing? Is this playing field going to be better or worse than the past year or two? The answers to these questions are critical to making your plan meaningful and effective. One's conviction and belief is critical to one's success.

Over the last several years, many worlds have been turned upside down. We have seen dramatic changes in real estate values, a roller coaster stock market and global economic conditions have dramatically changed.

While this instability has been disruptive, has it had a dramatic effect on you or your lifestyle? Have you lost your job? Have you had to sell your home to make ends meet? Have you taken your children out of college to help pay the bills? For most business owners or leaders, the answer is no. What is consistent and true, however, is how we look at tomorrow. And the future has dramatically changed. Unpredictability is much more prevalent than predictability.

When things are unpredictable, it changes our perspective, our focus, and our actions. We tend not to look out far and dream. We tend to be much more conservative in our decisions, which is not all bad. Our planning processes and our focus are more micro than macro. Our very basic levels of confidence and conviction are diminished. This leads to weaker leadership, which is rarely good in tough times.

Making Informed Predictions

While I cannot help to make the environment more predictable, I can suggest how you might cope with this dynamic better. Here are some tips:

1. Focus on what you know, not what you don't know. You know consumers need you. You know if you stay engaged with them, they are more likely to come back. You know if you have a sale and you improve the margins slightly you will sell more and make more money. You know you will only have a chance to score a point if you take the shot. Make a list of these types of things and put your energy in this direction.

2. Force yourself to stretch the longer-term muscles. If muscles are not used, they are not strong. You need to exercise your long-term planning skills if you want to be effective long term. In the past, business leaders committed to growth spent about a third of their time on short-, medium-, and long-term thinking. But over the last several years, long-term thinking has vaporized for many. If you can make an appointment with yourself to spend two hours a week on the longer term, you will be energized and avoid many short-sighted mistakes.

3. Act. If you take action, more times than not, that is better than being paralyzed by the unpredictable nature of things. These actions not only give you an opportunity for some success, but also send a message to your team that you are committed to them and the growth of the business. These actions are also lessons in ways to crack the code in the unpredictable times.

In closing, today's business environment has thrown us some curveballs. But like a masterful baseball player, you need to learn to hit a variety of pitches to be successful.

Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson is the author of the best-selling book, How Fit is Your Business?, and the forthcoming book, Business Themes to Live By, to be published later this year.

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