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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

May You Live in Uncertain Times

The markets are ‘fragile’ says Robert Peston, on the day that shocks from Greece and Shanghai sent markets tumbling. On a global scale this is not, yet, anything like a robust recovery. But is that the only factor? Are we more broadly living in a period of uncertainty about our future?

There are arguments on both sides. Some would say that we live in a period characterised by accelerating change, and they can point to convincing evidence. The exponential progress of technologies. The diminishing life of dominant stocks that once would spend decades at the top of markets and now spend a matter of months.

There are those who point out the decay in formerly resolute power structures, whether they are states or religious leaders. As Moises Naim (whom I am very fond of quoting) points out, power is harder to win, harder to use, and easier to lose.

There’s uncertainty around the climate. Not whether it is changing, or who is causing that change (it’s us, if you were in any doubt). But what impacts that change will have and how soon.

Then there are those who make the counter arguments: human history has been characterised by periods of rapid change, often driven by the introductions of new technologies. Things changed very quickly following the introduction of steam and internal combustion. The same is probably true for wheels and even fire.

I lean toward the former argument. For the simple reason of connectivity: when change comes, it spreads faster than it ever has. Each change catalyses another. This network effect makes our future not only one of accelerating change but increased uncertainty. Who can plot the impact of these intersecting influences, or when that impact will strike?

We can try, and we do. We try to see through the fog to give some level of guidance, while acknowledging that there is often as much value in the process of looking as there is in the ultimate predictions. But most of all we tell people to prepare for uncertainty. To build organisations that are agile, flexible and responsive.

Delivering success in the face of uncertainty is likely to be our over-riding message for 2015. And we’ll be building the tools to help our customers to achieve it.

Tom Cheesewright