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Uncertainty is a part of business, by Bob Vecchiotti

Several centuries ago, business owners were concerned with local uncertainties. What is my competitor in the same town doing? How can I keep more people at work and not be raided by a new company in the area? How can I survive a fire? These concerns were easily resolved since there was plenty of local support to draw upon.

Inventory wasn’t a concern, suppliers were mostly local. Product features were stable for longer times. There were some uncertainties over time with social changes e.g. veteran benefits, new taxes, pensions, and social security. Sales weren’t too complicated since loyalties were easily established among people they knew from more than one venue. For many years after the world wars we saw no limit to growth.

But times have changed with a dramatic increase in uncertainty so that as a business owner you have to keep ahead of many more functions of your business from marketing, to product development, to on-boarding to training employees, to new financial options and tools, and to new methods to use in planning ahead.

Many varieties of cereals, toothpaste, brushes, and soft drinks are offered to hedge market uncertainties. Competition is everywhere literally as new entrepreneurs chip away at your successes. Some competitors are known; others haven’t played their hand yet.

How do you deal with all of today’s uncertainties? It’s a world where you have to expect changes. A first step is to be vigilant for changes that can impact you and your business. Carefully review your industry data and related industries to see what forces can co-opt your products or services. They’re likely to be many and not under the usual places. They are uncovered by persistence and some intuitive guesses. Making frequent connections with customers, suppliers, employees, and peers can provide data you can use to evaluate your situation and make uncertainties more visible.

A search for the new and the many opportunities based on evidence, persistence, intuition, perception, and gut feel can help find more pathways to success and encourage innovation. Having a positive attitude with self talk that says you can and will do this hastens making uncertainty more certain. From uncertainty come new opportunities. Let Chicken Little worry about the sky falling.

Together with greater uncertainty come changes to your leadership activities that go a long way in not only adjusting to the changes but also capitalizing on the opportunities they present. As the CEO of a business, educational institution, charitable organization, or non-government organization, you probably know the value of a high tolerance for ambiguity. Navigating the uncertain environments involves courage and means not only being flexible but also being able to understand opposites by using the process of indentifying pros and cons of alternatives.

It’s not just competitors who can disrupt your business. Today you have to include the random and unpredictable attacks that can come from terrorists both domestic and international. The threat is real and is the hardest to deal with. You can’t spend a lot of time worrying about it unless you are doing business with suppliers or customers in areas where the threats are higher.

Contingency plans are a great tool for identifying how you would handle an attack or international disruption. Taking the time to build on what you know, asking the “What if” questions, and devising a plan that will overcome the unexpected is time well spent. A realistic perspective means that you won’t ask all the “What ifs” that exist. That’s OK since you’re likely to ask the important ones.

There are some things that will always be unchanging with your business. Each day you’ll have time to deal with uncertainty, your full leadership competencies are available, your loyal employees are available, and your spirit of winning and meeting your objectives is alive and well.

You need some uncertainty to keep your business life focused. There are opportunities ahead. And from the play “Annie” it’s star sings a hope filled song with these opening and ending words, ”The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar they’ll be sun tomorrow….(and) you’re only a day away.”

Bob Vecchiotti is a businessadviser and executive coach inPeterborough. He lives in Dublin.

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