No event characterises this age of uncertainty like Brexit. David Cameron was certain of one outcome when he allowed the referendum. He was wrong. Labour’s position has been uncertain from the day the referendum was called. The plan for leaving remains uncertain, as does whether we will actually leave. All the while, citizens and corporations alike have been left operating in uncertainty, unclear as to what the events will mean for them.
Though Brexit might feel like its ultimate expression, the age of uncertainty is not over. It is probably just beginning. Our hyperconnected world has accelerated innovation, brought more competitive forces to bear, and created new social networks and channels of communication that we do not yet understand. No longer can our organisations rely on the rules of the game remaining the same for decades, or even years. The playing field is changing constantly.
There are three responses to this. Some organisations, facing the Brexit uncertainty, have been trying to find certainty elsewhere, moving manufacturing or services to places that will remain inside the EU, at least for the time being. You could equally try to offload the uncertainty to others, outsourcing functions at risk from Brexit with the option of bringing on board other suppliers if necessary. But it is the third option that is perhaps the most important. The biggest lesson for the future. And that is to embrace uncertainty.
If you accept that the age of uncertainty will continue for years, perhaps decades, then you begin to change the way you operate. You look at your organisation and instead of focusing on today’s reality, you plan for the adaption to tomorrow. In fact you can start to build an organisation that is continuously adaptable.
What does this mean? There are implications for the structure of the organisation, and investment. But one of the critical characteristics of future-ready organisations is their foresight. Future-ready organisations devote resource to seeing what is coming first. They forecast better, and more frequently. They extract intelligence from all the numbers available, from finance and beyond. And they use this intelligence to driver better, faster decisions.
In an age of uncertainty your only real option for success in the long term is to be more adaptable than the competition. To be the first to take advantage of changes in the playing field. And that means being the first to see what’s happening and the first to respond.
If there is perhaps a thin silver-lining to the Brexit debacle, it is that it has taught many of us how to live and succeed in an age of uncertainty.