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Are You Ready to Deal with Unknown Unknowns?

"When you read stories—and there are many—speculating or predicting when and how we will return to 'normal', please discount them heavily. The future will not be like the past.... We can try to protect the past from the future, or we can embrace the changes and use the opportunity to fix things that have been broken."- Tim O'Reilly.

In his live online training Tim O'Reilly explained the need to use scenario planning to prepare for both the changes we all see coming and the unexpected that could blindside us.

We humans have a history of lurching from crisis to crisis until, at last, we shake ourselves off and go back to the comfortable way it was and begin the process all over again without many or even any changes to ensure mistakes aren't repeated. Thus leaving us unprepared for the next one.

In view of the global pandemic that hit us, companies are grossly unprepared for this period when they are facing many difficult choices and those choices have to be made with wildly uncertain futures in mind.

Companies can prepare for this cloudy future through scenario planning - building strategies that are robust in the face of large-scale uncertainty.

A new, more agile business model can emerge only through this process of rebuilding what's been reviewed down to its foundations, to form a more introspective, employee focused, transparent and flexible business model.

Scenario planning takes for granted that it is difficult for human beings to imagine the future as being radically different from the present. As a result, its practitioners don't try to predict what will happen, but attempt to stretch the mind to think about what could happen. Peter Schwartz, one of the originators of the technique, wrote in the introduction to his book about it, The Art of the Long View, the scenario is "a vehicle for an imaginative leap into the future."

In one of opinion pieces in New York Times, a model for business reopening has been suggested in which people work four-day shifts followed by ten days off in lockdown. Their calculations suggest that this would lower transmissibility of the virus almost as well as full lockdown policies, but allow people in many more occupations to get back to work, and many more businesses to reopen. Will experiments like this lead to permanent changes in work or schooling schedules?

Usually big companies focus mainly on achieving the most profit attainable and not enough on the people that make that profit possible. When profits decline, people are retrenched or companies are closed completely. There is not enough focus on how those retrenchments affects the morale of the remaining staff if any and in turn, their families and the wider community.

At Platinum VA, we have noticed that during these uncertain times, clients' needs have become even more urgent and they need innovative, transformative business administrative solutions that they can adopt while pivoting their business into new unknown future.

The way we work, travel, interact and build culture is in flux and companies need to review strategies to enable them to move in a positive direction to keep up with these changes.

Companies can no longer build their strategies on the old baselines of predictable consumer demand, globalization, office life, business travel, access to talent and the list continues. Companies need to develop new robust strategies that will hold up against a range of possible outcomes.

We need to review the whole system and refocus on the company values and make sure they reflect the correct message and that actions taken in difficult times are based on those values instead of on making the most profit possible, year after year.

As former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld famously said, "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know." And, I might add, the current crisis reminds us that perhaps the worst of all are "ignored knowns"—things we know but pretend we don't, and are then surprised when they trip us up.

While the new normal, during the COVID-19 pandemic may be unlike anything in the past, with scenario planning leaders can enlist their teams to pivot effectively if one of the scenarios do not work out going forward.

Author: Team PVA
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