The Future Has Never Been Certain

Blog Post The Strategic Frame

As we all are focused on navigating the unchartered waters of the COVID-19 era, you have likely found yourself discombobulated, anxious, resigned, and resilient – sometimes all in the same day! Certainly, the loss of life, impact to families and business, and yet-to-be-realized toll on people’s (especially children’s) psyche is real and devastating. Yet beyond the loss, there is a collective holding of our breath that has many of us pondering, “What comes next?”

Organizations are struggling to plan beyond the next few months. Scenario planning – even done well – seems to be bearing little useful strategies.  I spoke with a client recently who runs a division of a multi-billion dollar, multi-national company who told me, “I’m just trying to keep my people focused on being productive TODAY, as we try to figure out what TOMORROW will look like.”  I believe his sentiment captures the tactic of many competent leaders right now. How do you plan for the future when there is so much uncertainty?

Consider this – it has always been a myth that we can “know” the future. Uncertainty about the future didn’t emanate from this global pandemic.  As recently as the financial crisis of 2008, many preeminent corporations abandoned (or at least severely modified) their strategic planning process. Why? Due to the awareness that traditional strategic planning – predicting and preparing for the future – lost much of its favor due to a lack of visibility into the future. But that is just a recent example – the future has always been uncertain.

Even the fact that we talk about “The” future keeps this superstition in place. Is there one future out there, somewhere, that we will arrive at someday? Seems preposterous when we really think about it. No, the future doesn’t exist – it has to be created. The uncertainty is just more “in our faces” now than say, six months ago. And now more than at any time in the past two decades, the companies that emerge strongest from this latest crisis will be the ones who have a powerful answer to the question, “What future are we inventing?”

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