GUEST BLOG: Be your own Nostradamus – why every business needs to see into the future

Business | Tue 14 Feb | Author – Business & Finance fortune future

By John Joe McGinley, ideas and action planning consultant, Glassagh Consulting

When it comes to planning for the evolution of your business, knowledge is certainly power.

Is it just me or does Michel de Nostradamus get a bad press? Every year the tabloids or the more sensational magazines align him with disasters and apocalyptic portents, designed to spread fear and alarm and also sell newspapers or increase hits to their websites.

If you don’t know who Nostradamus is, he wrote his famous book Les Propheties in 1555. This consisted of a series of quatrains, each a four-line block which detailed the prophecies he believed would occur in the coming years decades and centuries. He had to be cryptic to avoid accusations of witchcraft, which were rife.

His most famous prediction concerned the death of French King Henry 2nd in a joust. He died when a lance tip pierced his eye and brain or as Nostradamus predicted: “He will pierce his eyes through a golden cage; two wounds made one, then he dies a cruel death.”

How often do you look to the future? When you are looking beyond the here and now, two important steps need to be taken and understood.

The first is to know where you are so you have a benchmark from which to move forward from.

Then, it’s about harnessing your inner Nostradamus to see what could happen and how you can adapt to meet and embrace the opportunities available.

When you step back and look at how our world will evolve, then all sorts of possibilities will arise. It is then up to you to decide which you wish to pursue and those you choose to ignore.

The successful companies of the decades ahead will be those that just don’t do the day-to-day activities well, but those that peer into the years ahead and understand how the world is evolving.

They will then exploit these changes. For instance I’d ask you all, ‘How many of you have a plan in place for Brexit?’

When you step back and look at how our world will evolve, then all sorts of possibilities will arise

I speak to hundreds of firms each year and in my experience, one of the major problems facing companies large and small is the lack of an insight of what the future could bring and a plan to meet these challenges and opportunities. Too many firms just concentrate on the present with no plan for how they will improve and evolve.

When challenged many firms counter that they are too busy with normal activity to step back and think about the future. However, that strategy of doing what we have always done only gets us what we have always got.

To take your business forward, to raise the bar takes desire, determination, dedication and insight –an insight into the future.

That insight should help identify the challenges a firm faces and the opportunities that our rapidly changing world will bring.

Also, to know where your business could go starts with knowing where you are now. This analysis can help you identify the weaknesses you need to address to progress and the strengths you can utilise to help you overcome your challenges and exploit the opportunities you have identified.

Gaining this business insight is a process and like any process, there are tools available to help an individual or business that wants to release their inner Nostradamus and begin to see what tomorrow can bring for them or their business.

If you identify a particularly attractive opportunity, but, also have weaknesses which restrict your ability to exploit it, then perhaps your plan should focus on what you can do to eliminate these weaknesses

One powerful tool I would recommend to do this is COWS, which is short for an understanding of the challenges, opportunities, weaknesses and strengths you will face now and in the months and years ahead.

The reason I favour COWS over more traditional tools such as PEST or SWOT is that the COWS business planning tool and insight session begins with the challenges that face a business.

This allows the other areas such as opportunities, weaknesses and strengths to flow from these challenges.

Put simply, a COWS starts very much with the key issues of a business. When carrying out a COWS analysis you’ll need to look at both the internal environment (within the business) and the external environment (outside it).

Internal factors can usually be classified as weaknesses and strengths and the external factors are usually challenges and opportunities.

WHAT DO YOU FIND IN A COWS?

Changes in the internal and external environment can also present threats to any firm, for example:

  • Regulation
  • Changing consumer habits
  • The growth of social media
  • How to farm your client bank

Looking at the wider world can also reveal new opportunities for profit and growth, for example:

  • A client need that is not being met
  • New technologies that you can use and adapt
  • Political developments such as Brexit
  • Needs of new market segments

Identifying your weaknesses will help you address them. For example, each of the following may be seen as a weakness:

  • Lack of correct services and solutions for certain client segments
  • A weak brand name
  • A poor reputation among customers
  • A high cost structure

Business strengths are the resources and capabilities you can use to develop a competitive advantage. Examples include:

  • Services offered
  • Strong brand name
  • Client referrals and recommendations
  • Service proposition

If you identify a particularly attractive opportunity, but, also have weaknesses which restrict your ability to exploit it, then perhaps your plan should focus on what you can do to eliminate these weaknesses. Once this is done you have a greater chance of success.

The whole rational behind the COWS tool is to help you as a business identify the key challenges and opportunities you face and the strengths and weaknesses you can exploit or address to meet them.

COWS allows you to see the scale and likelihood of the changes you and your clients will face and the impact each will have on your business. This allows you to decide on a variety of tactical approaches in your action plan. You can then see what is important for your success, the top priorities and the impact of any activity you undertake.

If you conduct your COWS session effectively what you will end up with, are a serious of strategies in your business action plan:

C- W strategies – these address your weaknesses to meet the challenges you face

C- S strategies – can use your firms strengths to meet the challenges you know you will face

O-W strategies – should overcome your weaknesses to exploit the opportunities available

O-S strategies – will Identify ways in which your business can use its strengths to maximise the opportunities you have identified.

The whole rational behind the COWS tool is to help you as a business identify the key challenges and opportunities you face and the strengths and weaknesses you can exploit or address to meet them

The secret is to write these down and you will soon see that you are starting to draft your business objectives and action plan.

Then you really will have unleashed your inner Nostradamus by looking into what your world could look like.

John Joe McGinley GlassaghAbout the blogger

John Joe McGinley is passionate and highly motivated marketer and business change consultant with over 29 years’ experience working with businesses helping them with marketing, business change and social media.

After many years working in the UK for major life insurance companies as a business consultant, he has relocated to Ireland with his family and is in the process of establishing his own social media and business change consultancy in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glassagh Consulting.

Follow John Joe on Twitter here.