Recently, I read an article that provoked the reader to pay more attention to the big picture and look beyond the immediate meaning of day to day events. The premise of the piece was that “little”, seemingly unrelated events have repeatedly lead to regional or global events throughout history – such as the “minor assassination” of an Austrian prince ultimately led to World War I. It struck me that this premise also had business implications.
One of the core discussions in this piece was that we (as a species) often fail to see events coming, and that the path from point A to B seems obvious when historians examine them decades or centuries later.
While historians have the benefit of having the puzzle laid out before them, they claim that we (again, as a species) have been pretty consistent about three things contribute to our inability to detect these situations before (or as) they happen:
- People tend to look at their present for answers, rather than considering the past or future.
- People tend to look immediately around them, rather than analyzing how events connect regionally or globally.
- People tend not to push themselves intellectually. Specifically, we don’t read enough, spend enough time thinking beyond the prior two points, challenge ourselves enough, and often tune out opposing views.
These are not accusations unique to today’s world, but observations noted repeatedly by historians dating back to Plato.
Look beyond the present
Let’s take that template of observations and use it to overlay our careers as owners, managers and employees.
When we look back, will we see some obvious signals that we missed over during our business career to date? For the things that stick out, would you do the same thing knowing what you know today? Do you feel you missed a signal or a piece of information that would have prompted you to do something else? Did you learn a lesson at the time that served you well? Months or years later, did a lesson hit you about those events?
Maybe there’s something to this, maybe not. Regardless of how your track record holds up under re-examination, the premise is worthy of consideration. How do the things that happened in the past impact current challenges? Do the methods being used to deal with these things hold up over time? Would your decision-making process or the execution seem naive, ill-advised, or not observant a year (or five) from now? If so, why?
Should that impact your execution and decision making processes? History says (in so many words) “yes, over all people and all times”, but everyone’s history varies.
Look beyond your immediate reach
Beyond your immediate reach, what is going on in your market? What’s going on in the markets that affect your suppliers (and their suppliers) and your clients (and their clients)? What events going on right now could affect you, your clients, their clients or your suppliers, even though they might be a layer or two removed from their day to day collective concerns?
For example, if you have a small party store, there are a number of things in the international community that affect you and your clients. Currency. International logistics. Regional conflicts. Tariffs. Trade agreements. A strike on the Long Beach docks.
Can you do anything about these events that are out of your reach? Probably not. However, you can use your knowledge of them to take action to protect your business and your clients’ businesses. Like it or not, you’re in their line of work as well, so paying close attention to what impacts them is important, even when it has nothing to do with what you do or sell.
Look beyond your norms
This one is complicated: read more, challenge yourself more, think more and review things contrary to your opinion. Yet it’s also simple and can be summed up in one word: Grow.
The single most important thing we can do for our business over the long term is to make ourselves better. A better read, better trained, better prepared, better developed business owner does better. That business owner sets the example for their team’s growth. When we have a deeper understanding of all sides of the challenges we face, and a deeper knowledge of the issues that affect our businesses and our clients’ businesses, we’re prepared to make better decisions.
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