COVID REFLECTIONS: A foggy horizon
Over the course of my career as a speaker and strategy facilitator, I have noticed an interesting trend.
A decade ago or more companies would book me about 6 to 9 months in advance. By July, my year would basically be fully booked up. If I didn’t have work scheduled already for November and December, I would be panicking about having bad months, and would know that it was basically too late to do anything about it.
The past decade (what are we calling it: “the twenty-teens”?) saw a shift. Lead times and forward planning shifted from 6 to 9 months, to around 3 months. Companies were not prepared to commit to big events, booking hotels and venues and caterers and entertainers and speakers and paying deposits too far in advance. They were still thinking about 6 months ahead, but only committing to dates and bookings much closer to the time.
This was an indication of the level of disruption taking place. It’s tough to plan when the horizon is foggy. At least, it’s tough to plan in the way we used to plan.
This year has been even worse. People are literally looking less than a month ahead. Announcements of big press events give one or two days notice. Requests for workshops and online sessions are for next week. People doing “long range planning” are asking about dates in early September - that’s 5 weeks away. (And, by the way, everyone wants to do something on Wednesday, 16 Sep. It’s insane.)
It’s all understandable, of course. Our future is foggy at the moment. We can’t even see the horizon.
The problem is that people think the fog will lift. So, they tell themselves, “just for now” they’ll think and act in short term ways. “Just for now” they’ll do everything last minute.
What happens if the “fog” never lifts?
I’m not talking about Covid specifically. I’m talking about what happens if the volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world we now live in is what the world is. What happens if the fog has settled on the horizon for a decade or two? We can’t just keep looking at our toes, taking one step at a time and hoping we’re on the right path. We will need to learn to live with the fog, and to be more adaptable.
I hope I’m not stretching the analogy too far when I say that we need to learn how to walk - even run - confidently in the fog. We need to get some new instruments to help us navigate the foggy path confidently. We need to change the ways we plan, strategise, budget, measure, reward and incentivise our teams to take account of the fog we are in. We need to learn how to be more adaptable, and when we make plans for the future we make them in a way that allows for changes and the unexpected.
We can’t keep waiting for the fog to lift. And we can’t keep working on a 2 week horizon. It just won’t work.