Thursday, 28 August 2014

Think ahead…

I’ve worked for a variety of businesses in my time and seen many different approaches to the question of whether or not to try and forecast the future. Of course I don’t mean the future of the planet and this kind of forecasting has nothing to do with crystal balls although they are often mentioned in a vain attempt to inject a bit of humour into what many regard as a lost cause.

But if the thought of forecasting sales or  future economic circumstances makes you smile or even laugh at the futility of the exercise, why not just pause for a second to reconsider? You never know – you may just gain a little advantage that gets you ahead and who wouldn’t want that?

So, for me, a forecast of some sort is absolutely vital and a very powerful weapon in my business arsenal. There are a few reasons why I say that – namely focus, creativity and targeting. Taking these concepts in order, I’ll try to summarise what each of them means to me and my business.

Forecasting helps me to focus on where my opportunities lie and where I might encounter obstacles. That may sound obvious but if that’s the case why are so many business people reluctant to do it? Clearly, it requires discipline to set aside time and conduct the exercise but would you plan a cross country hike without knowing the terrain so you could dress and pack provisions accordingly?

Forecasting helps me to unlock my creative side (and we’ve all got one!). It’s impossible to do a forecast without allowing yourself a decent stretch of free time and once you’ve done that the creative juices start to flow automatically. Enjoy the benefits of thinking differently, seeing different angles and adjusting your output accordingly to take advantage.

And finally, forecasting helps me to target my business effectively. I don’t say I will hit all my targets but if I’ve forecast them then they have an identity and a kind of reality which brings them to life. Chasing targets requires self-motivation and who can motivate themselves with just a number? Far better surely to get acquainted with the detail and inject a bit of enthusiasm into the whole exercise to keep you going when the road gets harder!

Maybe, in the last analysis it is sensible to pour a little cold water on forecasting and occasionally ridicule it but just maybe it might be a friend to you when your business hits a bit of choppy water ahead…  

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Take a holiday…

At this time of year a lot of us are actually taking holidays or thinking about a sitting on a beach in some faraway destination. In France the whole country heads for Le Midi for an entire month and, in many ways, why not?

Working in business in today’s difficult economic climate where we’re all obsessed with time, I propose that every now and then it does you good to deliberately waste a bit of it! In the age of “brush-by” meetings and “leaning in” to stay in focus and on-track with a punishing schedule, we can be forgiven for forgetting what the benefits of laziness might be.

Enforced laziness has a unique value that should not be underestimated, according to Schumpeter of the Economist magazine. Ronald Reagan famously believed in not overdoing things – “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?” Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister, praised the virtues of “masterful inactivity” and Asquith employed a policy of “wait and see” when he was in power. In the world of work, Jim Collins, famous author of Good to Great, exhorts us to create a stop-doing list to complement our to-do list.

I guess the point really is that occasionally we all need to get off the tread mill to figure out if there is a better way of doing things. In my view, that’s more necessary than ever today as we are plagued by phenomena such as email where our ability to manage the task is compromised by the constant need to respond within seconds. We are sucked into the vortex as we earnestly lean in to hear the “conversation” and before we know it we’re agreeing to the terms of an unknown email assailant who has just pushed his or her way to the top of our agenda.

Email is only one facet of the way we do business today but it’s a good indicator of where we are. According to a recent survey, 80% of us continue to work after we’ve left the office, 69% can’t go to bed without routinely checking the email in-box and 38% check their emails whilst at the dinner table!

So, if you’re lucky enough to be taking a holiday this year, my advice would be to truly enjoy it.
Big chunks of uninterrupted time are like gold dust – lean back a bit, enjoy the silence or the view or whatever’s available and the next time you need to lean-in you might find it’s not so difficult from your position of relaxed readiness!