When The Going Gets Tough...

We are living in very uncertain times. The new president has just been sworn in — and, love him or hate him, he has promised measures that will create shockwaves to the economy. Now that he is in charge, we will begin to see what was fact and what was rhetoric during the run-up to the election.

Over in Europe, three countries are facing elections of their own this year (Italy, France and The Netherlands) and one, the U.K., will start the formal exit from the EU.
All of this means that for companies or business leaders, making any kind of predictions is very hard.

I am not here to provide you with predictions from my crystal ball, as I am about as much in the dark as you are. But what I can tell you is that inertia is probably your worst enemy. And that is true either if your business today is doing pretty well, or is on a downward slump.

Uncertainty is a challenging problem, because the human mind is conditioned for survival. Facing uncertainty, your instinct will automatically drive you to choose the safest option. And when alternate options cannot be easily predicted in terms of results, you might be tempted to elect the status quo, even when the status quo is demonstrably not desirable (i.e., your business was already not progressing).



This is a real problem that many businesses face. Even if we take the uncertainty of politics and the economy out of the equation, many business models have been turned on their heads by advancing technologies and data, or simply by evolving consumer preferences and tastes.

In presentations and white papers, people love to elaborate on the poor leadership at Kodak, Blackberry or Nokia that failed to foresee and respond to the challenges their businesses were facing. But for all these well-worn examples, there are also great examples of companies and leaders who courageously looked at what they knew and made a call.

Facebook was woefully behind in mobile a few years back. But it developed a strategy and a plan, and today more than 75% of its business is mobile-driven (can we please stop saying that this is the year for mobile? That moment is long in the past!).

Unilever saw that consumer preferences and tastes were evolving rapidly toward healthier and sustainable, and placed a big bet on that idea. It seems like that was absolutely the right call.

The Coca-Cola Company at long last admitted that the motivations to like the taste of a Coke, a Coke Light or Zero are all more or less the same. But sometimes we want to watch our waistline and choose the less sugary variety. Today, they are all advertised together.

And the self-driving car is swiftly becoming a reality, so Ford, Mercedes and others are placing bets on companies and technologies that could one day enhance or even replace some of their core products today.

If you, dear reader, are not actually in charge of a company but “just” work for one, I would venture that it is still part of your responsibility to think ahead, consider what is knowable and help chart a path. That is self-serving, but in a good way.

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