I have just attended a lecture on “Preparing for stormy weather – Identifying and managing climate risks”, organised by Business Green. The lectures were interesting, and included a brief summary for some of the evidence that climate change is actually happening. To a degree my interest in the subject was at a tangent to the lecture. The lecture was focussed on “Climate Change” is happening and you need to manage the risks involved in this, whereas the interest area that lead me to it is more evaluation of green coming technology and whether it is “Green wash“. There was, however, much that was said in the lecture that was of interest. A major observation, for example, is that the one thing that is certain is that uncertainty will continue for a long while yet. The whole subject is complex and messy, and so it will be a long while until the future can be predicted with real certainty. There are trends and patterns, but none of the models will provide a crystal ball into the future. This means that rather than strategic planning, in the usual sense, it is likely that techniques such as working through scenarios based on consideration of potential changes and levels of sensitivity on action are worth considering. Then, consider your adaptive capability and resilience to shocks that might turn up – including the possibility of cascade failures. This is good Advice in the face of complexity and uncertainty in general, and I would strongly consider such an approach in a diverse range of uncertain and turbulent environments. An example closer to home might be considering the current shift to mobile technologies and the risks and opportunities that it brings to your business over various time frames.
Another interesting observation was around the possibility of mal-adaptation. This is another consideration that might be worthy of reflection in a more general sense. Given that the future is uncertain, but that action is needed now then it is possible that you will try to change to adapt to the situation as you expect it to be in the future. It is possible, and indeed likely, that your original plan will not exactly reflect the actual future. You have a risk, therefore, that you will be investing for a future that never occurs – leading to loss. There are ways to minimise this risk, in terms of sensitivity analysis and staying aware of the actual situation on an on-going basis. In an uncertain world, however, it is probably true that you will not be able to eliminate this risk entirely unless you don’t invest in anything at all.
The last point I’ll write about now is the most subtle, and possibly the most relevant point of all. That is one of language use. The comment was to “Keep the language aspirational.” There is so little in the world that is certain, and so you can’t be sure how much is needed or how well that will fit in with the overall picture. It would be very easy in this, and many other, situations to slip into negative language that will turn off and demotivate people. It would be possible to set SMART objectives in this case, such as reducing waste by 20% by the end of 2015. It can be more useful, however, to have aspirational targets: No waste; Totally renewable energy sources etc. It can then be accepted that goal is to gets as close as possible to the target, and as long as there is continuous movement in the right direction that is good. SMART objectives may fit in under this, but the direction of travel is key.