Strategic planning in an age of turbulence (一)
This article considers the inevitability of turbulence, which should have major implications on how organisations can plan for their long-term survival
For an organisation, turbulence can be defined as unpredictable and swift changes in its external or internal environments that affect its performance.
Internal events usually limit their effect to the organisation in which they occur. External events are much more wide-reaching, often affecting all organisations or all organisations within an industry sector. These events would often be identified, though not necessarily predicted, through a PESTEL or Porter’s 5 Forces analysis.
A decade ago, economic growth, interest rates, the impact of the internet and so on were moving in fairly stable patterns. Of course, even during this period of relative stability, music companies were trying to work out how to respond to MP3 downloads, and a company like Kodak was trying to tackle the impact of digital cameras. But the environment as a whole didn’t spring too many nasty surprises and businesses felt confident to plan for the future. How different the last few years have been, as shown above in the examples of external events. Furthermore, once turbulence is established it can be some time before things settle down again. So we are now, undoubtedly, in the middle of a turbulent period.
Our current environment is not uniquely turbulent and there are many examples of turbulent periods from the last 100 years or so: World War I, the great depression of the 1930s, World War 2, social changes in the 1960s, the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, events following the attack on the World Trade Center. Turbulence seems to be inevitable, though few people recognise that, perhaps because its cause and effect cannot be predicted in any detail. But we know something unexpected always happens. The inevitability of turbulence should have very important implications for how organisations should plan for their long-term survival.
Strategic planning in an age of turbulence (二)
Knowns and unknowns
All planning requires us to peer into the future as far as we can, and based on what we see and our forecasts we devise plans. However, there is a huge range in what we are capable of foreseeing and with what reliability. It is useful to divide future events into three classes, as did Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Secretary of Defense. He was derided at the time but – at least in this matter – he made perfect logical sense, though somewhat clumsily expressed:
‘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.’
? The known knowns – for example, an organisation might know that its drug patents will expire in three years, or that it will be relocating in six months. These events are relatively easy for planners to handle and to build into budgets and objectives.
? The known unknowns – for example, an organisation might know that its competitors are going to launch an important new product but it is not sure exactly what the characteristics of that product will be. (Think of the launch of the Apple iPad: everyone knew something was coming, but no one outside Apple knew any details.) Or, organisations might know that interest rates will rise but are not sure when or by how much. These types of unknown can be handled by making estimates and possibly by assigning probabilities to the various outcomes. Decision trees, expected values, and sensitivity analysis are all very useful techniques.
? The unknown unknowns – do you know when there will be a powerful earthquake that flattens the city of London? (Of course, by definition, we don’t know if there will ever be one.) In 2007, no one knew, or suspected, that Lehman Brothers would fail. Unknown unknowns cannot be planned for, but organisations should assume that they will happen and should therefore build into their plans robustness to protect themselves against negative events and an ability to exploit positive ones.