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black swan

18 May

Did you see the coronavirus coming?

I certainly didn’t and let’s face it, other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Bill Gates pretty much nobody else did either. Predicting the future isn’t easy.

Even Taleb and Gates, however, couldn’t tell you when it was going to happen or how the world’s governments would react to it, if and when it did strike.

So what can we learn from this?

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of long-term business planning.

How on earth can anyone predict what the world is going to be like in three years, let alone five or ten years’ time? Producing thick tomes full of spreadsheets is just a waste of time and effort.

Our world is always under the threat of the unexpected, the so-called ‘black swan’ events.*

These often devastating occurrences like 9/11, the financial crash of 2008 and now the coronavirus pandemic are difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

Their consequences seriously impact our lives forever in ways we can’t even imagine till they happen.

Predicting the future – a realistic approach to planning

There are those that think that ‘big data’ will come to our rescue and enable us to predict the future more accurately, but somehow I doubt it.

The track record for predictions by so-called experts is abysmal and getting worse – think economists, financial planners and governments!

Does this mean that we should just stick our heads in the sand, cross our fingers and hope for the best?

Of course not, that would be mad. What I think is sensible and astute for all companies to prepare, however, is a crisis plan.

Crisis Planning

Crisis planning has nothing to do with trying to predict what disasters might possibly impact our businesses in the future. It has everything to do with putting in place plans for dealing with unexpected business interruptions or events.

There’s a simple six-step plan you can follow:

1. Assess the risks to identify the areas in your business most vulnerable to disruption.

2. Determine the business impact of interrupted revenue streams, supply chain issues, employee challenges, communications with customers and internal staff, legal implications, etc., the list can be long, dependent on the industry.

3. Identify contingencies – how can you deal with such issues and keep the business operational.

4. Build a simple, but comprehensive plan that is easy to understand and implement.

5. Make sure your team buys into the plan and understands their roles within it.

6. Revisit the plan annually with a particular focus on new technologies that may impact solutions to improve your plan.

Then, when a ‘black swan’ hits, there are basically four stages you will need to deal with as the situation unfolds;

i. Implementation (of the plan)
Getting all your ducks in a row as quickly as possible.

ii. Reassurance (to all stake-holders)
Communicating with staff, customers, suppliers and other interested parties to keep them up to date and in tune with your planned strategy.

iii. Transition (back to the new normal)
Planning an effective route back to the status quo, if such a route exists; if it doesn’t, working out the new modus operandi.

iv. Analysis (& feedback)

Reviewing how the crisis unfolded, how your business dealt with it and the lessons learned that can be applied to future crisis planning.

It would be great if we didn’t have to face these ‘black swans’ that cause so much disruption out of the blue, but the reality is they could become more frequent. Trying to predict what will hit next is a waste of time, but having a plan in place to help manage these situations is more than just common sense.

If you would like help creating a crisis plan for your business give Alan Myers a call on 0116 278 7788 or email:

* The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb was first published in 2007 and discusses the impact of the highly improbable.

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