Making uncertainty less uncertain

22 May 2023

Market insights

What tools can we call on to bring a little less uncertainty in a time where constant change seems inevitable?

Times are a changing. So said Mr B.Dylan 59 years ago. And they have and they do. And they always will. But over the last 3 years of COVID infected times and unprecedented world events, we have experienced more than our share of change. We have seen levels of uncertainty that have been more confronting than any time in recent memory. Frankly we are seeing more weird stuff than most of us have had to deal with before. 

The One Picture Group like every business is grappling with some of these challenges. What is around the corner? How are our different markets reacting? Where are the contractions and for how long? All businesses are asking these questions but at One Picture these questions have even more significance because we get asked them by our clients. You are an insights and strategy consultancy they say – what’s your take on what’s coming up?  

The first thing we say is change and uncertainty are forces of nature. You can’t stop them so you have to work with them and embrace the realisation that you can’t control or predict everything. As James Clear the writer extraordinaire says "The ultimate form of preparation is not planning for a specific scenario, but a mindset that can handle uncertainty". Well, we agree that the right mindset is important to be brave, but we would also say manage uncertainty by de-risking decision making as much as you can. 

We would advocate using a blend of intuition and science when it comes to making decisions and navigating your way through these uncertain times. Do your research – double down on it. Interrogate the problem with crystal clear clarity and inform the answer with real customer or stakeholder data. As a wise old client once said – 'I don’t want neutrality – I want opinions – just make sure those opinions are informed as they damn well can be'. Never has that been more important than now. The over used business platitude which says ‘the harder I work the luckier I get’ has never been truer when it comes to weathering economic headwinds. It’s time to get your hustle on and to keep focused. The more in-depth market knowledge you have, the sharper your commercial instincts. Just like in sports, most times the professional who has a routine and data that they can rely on, knows how to win in the face of uncertainty and surprising resistance. Data and science help provide a level of consideration and maturity of decision making that goes out the window when decision makers are stressed. We tend to emote and become more subjective and personal when the pressure comes on. We also know that there is a direct relationship between stress and uncertainty.

At One Picture we advocate where possible for using trend data – context is everything and it's where the long game comes into its own. Predictive business and organisational diagnostics that are truly powerful, are about ‘now’ but they are also more importantly about the long game. Just like investing in the share market, seeing the big picture and not falling into the trap of ‘short term-ism’ is vital. This is particularly the case when it comes to brand health and growth initiatives. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said: “When I have a good quarterly conference call with Wall Street, people will stop me and say, ‘Congratulations on your quarter,’ and I say, ‘Thank you,’ but what I’m really thinking is that quarter was baked three years ago.”

This doesn’t change in uncertain times. But it takes real discipline to not under or overreact when it comes to marketing investment and customer decisions. These decisions are much easier to make when they are informed by likely or actual outcomes and a longitudinal lens. The other thing to think about is that net productivity is the balance of the productive and unproductive forces in your business. Deciding what not to do is just as important as what to do. A great deal of time and energy is spent thinking about how to increase effort, but there is also lot to be gained by reducing friction. 

The art of course is in picking the right metrics to follow but this too is about experience and category specific diagnostics. And importantly what doesn’t change. 

And the constants are just as important as the variables. How many times have you been told there’s a ‘new normal’. In fact, betting against the ‘new normal’ has often been the better bet. Yes, things change. Good businesses innovate and reflect the changes in their market. But the fundamental dynamics of business haven’t changed in decades. New categories, new products and services, but the ‘old normal’ persists. A great example of this was the way media outlets a few months ago were working overtime to push out pieces about how people wanted to work less. As the guardian said ‘Hustle culture is over, the narrative went: burnt-out employees are doing the bare minimum. Now, however, the economy is rubbish, and a recession is imminent. Instead of quiet quitting, everyone is loudly labouring’.

We would also advocate for being ‘subjectively objective’. Meaning use data as your critical touchstone but don’t underestimate the importance of honed intuition held by experienced people that have been here before. If that’s not you, find people who can serve up some of this experience to you – quality advisors who are seasoned campaigners who know how to hold their nerve and approach big decisions with calm objectivity and independence. 

In summary there is nothing particularly clever about adding high integrity customer and other data to the decision-making matrix. What is more mysterious to us is how often it doesn’t happen and why so many teams are flying blind when it comes to their all-important customer and business decision making.

In a world of much uncertainty why in the world would you not want to control and inform what you can? 

Tags: One Picture, Insights, Strategy, Uncertainty, Decision making, Change