A lot of business owners are putting off working on their marketing strategy.
They’re waiting for things to settle down, for the market to become more stable, or to simply have more certainty about the way things are going to go.
That’s an understandable and common approach.
But the problem is that they’re likely to be waiting forever.
Because there’s no such thing as certainty about the future, and there’s no such thing as stability—only the illusion of it.
The way to navigate the future is neither to predict its course nor wait it out—it’s to prepare for multiple outcomes.
As elite firefighter Peter Leschak put it, by way of Dan Dworkis’s The Emergency Mind, “You must not merely tolerate uncertainty, you must savor it. Or you won’t last long.”
In business, as in all of life, uncertainty is the constant, not the aberration. Things can and, if we work at it, will improve.
But they’ll never be certain or stable.
Stability is stasis, and what we want is progress. We want improvement and increased opportunities.
Which means, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that we truly want things to change. We only think we want stability, when the truth is that what we want is certainty.
Which we cannot have.
So how do we deal with uncertainty and make the best of it? First, we stay optimistic.
Even when things are dire, we’ve got to stay positive. As high-performance sports psychologist Michael Gervais once said, “I haven’t met a world-class thinker or doer that isn’t fundamentally optimistic.”
That positivity and optimism will allow us to do the real work of imagining multiple scenarios for the future. Not as a way to predict, but as a way to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be.
This is the art of scenario planning.
As Annie Duke wrote in Thinking in Bets, “Scenario planning reminds us that the future is inherently uncertain. By making that explicit in our decision-making process, we have a more realistic view of the world.”
Scenario planning also makes sure that “we are better prepared for how we are going to respond to different outcomes that might result from our initial decision. We can anticipate positive or negative developments and plan our strategy, rather than being reactive.”
And “anticipating the range of outcomes also keeps us from unproductive regret (or underserved euphoria) when a particular future happens.”
It’s not that any single one of our scenarios will transpire in the exact detail we imagined, but by making sure we’re prepared for multiple outcomes, we’re far more likely to be prepared for any outcome that may come to pass.
And we’ll be a lot happier whatever happens. As Duke sums it up, “We are going to do better, and be happier, if we start by recognizing that we’ll never be sure of the future.”
All of this means you can neither wait for certainty before creating your strategy, nor can your strategy assume a single way the world, the market, or the competition is going to go.
The structure you create for your marketing work must admit multiple scenarios, and must include options to change, to seize new opportunities, and divest yourself of underperforming actions.
Which means you can’t commit all your resources to one activity or one opportunity—never bet everything on anything.
You can’t overexert yourself to meet some short-term goal you won’t be able to recover from—only do what you can sustain for the long-term.
And you can’t wear out all your enthusiasm and patience by taking actions you don’t like in the hopes they’ll eventually pay off—they won’t, because you won’t stick with them.
As Lawrence Freedman wrote in Strategy: A History, “Strategy could never really be considered a settled product, a fixed reference point for all decision-making, but rather a continuing activity, with important moments of decision.”
Your strategy is never done, it’s a living, working document and a structure for making decisions—not a set commitment for every decision that you’ll make in the future.
Certainty about anything in the future is merely an attractive illusion. It’s a dangerous mirage more likely to lead us off track than it is to get us where we want to go.
So don’t just accept uncertainty, savor it.
And start working on your marketing strategy today.