The Business Weather

One of the quietest but biggest advances we have made in forecasting is the weather. A few years ago, forecasting accuracy was laughable beyond even a couple of days. Now, we can be pretty confident up to around five days, and get a useful, if less accurate predictions for up to a couple of weeks.

The difficulty comes of course from complexity. Chaos theory was triggered by the change in weather forecast accuracy caused by recording data at five rather than six decimal places. Driven by that realisation, and aided by huge advances in AI and machine learning, we are where we are today.

As the business environment becomes ever more connected, and as a result, ever more complex, we face similar challenges. Our ability to forecast is heavily foreshortened. We used to write five year plans; today five months is a challenge.

We have to adapt, and to do that I believe we need to look not to forecasting technology, but to ourselves. If we accept that our forecasts are at best short term templates, and not reliable, we have to look to how we relate to these forecasts.

If we stick to our traditional habit of making forecasts, setting goals, and going for them regardless we end up blind to the threats and opportunities that will emerge around us.

We need, above all else, to consider the human aspect. Hierarchies, formal processes, bureaucracies and the like do not serve us well. What becomes important are the depth and honesty of our relationships, a deep understanding and sensing of what is happening in the markets we serve, our agility – freedom to move with as little encumbrance as as we can manage; making sure those who need to make decisions – those at the customer interface – can do so without delay and lastly, a really clear focus, understood by all, as to what needs to be achieved.

If we do this, we can not only cope with complexity, but thrive on it. It requires though big changes in our cultures and structures. Old ideas of hierarchical status, rank and ego have to go, and purpose, ownership and personal commitment have to be central.

Things will not “go back to normal”.

We have to start. Each one of us.

The Blessed Typo

I had occasion this week to query an order from Amazon. I was sent a notice of dispatch for something I had not ordered. I did the usual checks to make sure the account had not been compromised, and set about querying the order and organising a return.

And so it began.

A few years ago, there was some interesting research into the notion of the uncanny valley. The dissonance that occurs as you become unsure whether you’re conversing with an algorithm, or a person.

The system is efficient – you know the routine. Then you get to the part where you have a non standard problem, and a chat box opens. The responses were efficient, but mechanical and I found myself wondering what I was conversing with. It’s a strange feeling, wanting the reassurance of being paid attention to rather than being efficiently processed.

And then – A TYPO!! – and a quick correction.

Algorithms don’t do typos. Algorithms don’t do vulnerable.

The whole tenor of the exchange altered. I was dealing with a human somewhere. It changed the nature of my questions (have you noticed how we fall into “machine speak” in chat situations?) which in turn changed my host responses. I got a satisfactory result to my issue, and felt acknowledged.

There is a space – a liminal space – between things – notes of music, responses in a conversation, gaps between thoughts. They are hugely powerful – they contain the all the emotions from fear to joy that will determine what happens next.

As yet, algorithms don’t do liminal space. They respond, but don’t leave space for empathy.

AI will have a huge impact, but we need to recognise context.

When I have a non standard problem, I don’t want a more senior algorithm, I want a human. And I want to know I’m conversing with one.


On the road to…..?

We are in a time of unprecedented turbulence, at the conjunction of changes in geopolitics, technology, demographics and the universal existential threat to our environment. The status quo has gone absent.

We need to step into our own authority, to be the genuine author of our own lives.

In his introduction to “The Alchemist” Paulo Coelho identifies four barriers that stop us; firstly that we are told from childhood that everything we want to do is impossible; secondly that we will hurt those around us if we set off on the path we want to follow; thirdly the fear of the defeats we will encounter along the way and lastly the guilt and fear of realising what we have always wanted. (If you haven’t read it, put it on your list – it is a beautiful little book)

More prosaically, we talk about the path from dependence, through independence to interdependence. Each state is largely a choice, with the hurdles above looming in front of us.

The turbulence we are in is key. All of us in the West alive today have been brought up in conditions where dependence has been encouraged – reward for conformity. Dependence on an employer, or the state. Independence achieved either by climbing to the top of the pile, or becoming an outlier and abandoning the pile altogether. True interdependence largely countered by a culture of competition.

In the very near future we will find out who is right about the impact of Artificial Intelligence – those who say it will destroy jobs, or those who say it will create them. Whoever is right though, it seems sensible to hedge our bets.

To identify what it is we really want to do, or are prepared to commit to, wholeheartedly.

To seek mastery of something that gives us independence, and allows us to make a choice with whom, and for what purpose, we are willing to be interdependent.

To step into our own authority.