In our business (and our life), we often mistake those events unplanned but not improbable, with those truly unexpected. For example, it’s certainly not unexpected that we’ll have snow each winter in New England, especially here in the hills of central Massachusetts. And yet, I’ve heard many times over the years some version of “we weren’t able to make our plan in the first quarter because of all the snow we had in the northeast.” It rarely sounds convincing.
That said, most of us don’t plan for snow days in our business, like they do at the local school. We get caught, and behind schedule, by a predictable event. This happened to me recently when we woke to 22 inches of new white powder (good on the slopes, not so much on the driveway). So what was scheduled to be a day of writing for the new book Fast Future! became instead a day of digging out – at home, at the office, and with others at the church. Unplanned yes, but not unexpected.
Here’s another, similar line I’ve heard more than a time or two, from a different time of year: “Third quarter revenues were lower than expected, primarily due to the high volume of summer vacations, especially in August.” Is it possible that we might have seen this coming?
Are there events like this – seemingly unexpected but in reality not so improbable – that conspire to derail your business plans each year? If so, what is it that you can and should do about it – to focus, mitigate the impact, or change the outcome of the situation?
Of course there are events truly unexpected and difficult to plan for. For example, a couple of weeks ago we were just beginning a family vacation ski day when my daughter Kylie was involved in a minor fender bender, hit from behind by a young newbie skier. She went down easy, so no big deal – except that in the fall she broke both of her lower arm bones. Ouch.
One might argue that skiing is risky, and while breaks are uncommon, they do happen, and perhaps we should prepare more for that possibility. Fair enough. But the truly unexpected piece of this story is not that my daughter broke her arm this day, but that it’s the second time she’s done it this year! (The first was in September, and she’d just recently been fully released). A statistician might remind us that these two completely unrelated events were independent of one another, and yet I’ll say that we (and certainly Kylie), we were quite unprepared to experience this again, so soon after the first.
New Jersey shoreline residents must feel like this, their houses impacted twice in a year by separate (and uncommon?) storms. And I remember Larry, a long ago college roommate, who’d always speed up after encountering a cop (what’s the chance of seeing a second)?
But I’m not focused on probability here, my point is more basic. Unexpected events do indeed occur, in our businesses and in our lives. Some, like breaking an arm, are (thankfully) relatively rare. Others, such as snow in New England or vacations in August are quite predictable – not uncommon at all. And some events seem to be happening more frequently today that they were a generation or two ago (intense weather, terrorist strikes). Our role as leaders, managers in the firm, and parents at home involve paying attention, weighing the risks and likely impacts, and planning to protect and grow those things that matter most.
Admittedly, some future events and outcomes are difficult to predict. Here are a few trends – from our forthcoming book Fast Future! Fifteen Uber Trends that Will Rock our World – which I believe are clearer to see and anticipate:
- The pace and impact of technological change is accelerating;
- The explosion of information availability and transparency will transform everything;
- Intense globalization will pervade all markets, business, culture, life;
- The world will become increasingly meritocratic, valuing what people do rather than who they are;
- Constant volatility, uncertainty, and change is the normative baseline;
- Consumer power will continue to rise and grow in all markets;
- Supply chains will become astoundingly flexible, mutating, and atomized;
- Very small companies will become increasingly successful on the global stage;
- Those who build the infrastructure of today will rule the world tomorrow;
- Alternative energy sources will grow, petroleum will still be king, and we’ll all become environmentalists;
- The world ahead will be profoundly more diverse;
- Peoples everywhere will live longer and healthier lives;
- Knowledge and know-how will be the language and currency of the global realm;
- Peoples around the world will continue to flock to urban areas – for opportunity;
- Community matters to human beings, and many new forms of community will emerge;
Finally, my apologies that I didn’t get this to you sooner. It’s snowing again here in New England today.
Keep up the fight.