FUTURE101
Joan Miro - Ceramique: an opposite view on reality

Uncertainty is the Bread and Butter of Fierce Competition

foresight opinion uncertainty Jun 02, 2023

This litho by Joan Miro shows his creative response to uncertainties about the political situation in Spain at the time. Miro viewed reality in a different perspective and expressed his views in new ways. Similarly, present-day uncertainty contributes to different interpretations of change and how to respond to it.

 

Let's face it; uncertainty can be a real pain in the you-know-what. But what if I told you that uncertainty could be your secret weapon for gaining a competitive edge? 

In today's fast-paced business environment, uncertainty is the name of the game. Globalization, new technologies, and big data have thrown traditional approaches to strategy out the window and left us all scratching our heads. But while some may view uncertainty as a negative that we should reduce ASAP, the real advantage resides in seeing it as a positive source of competitive edge.

Read my lips:

Uncertainty is to competition as herbs and spices to a dish. Without it, everything is bland.

 

Now, picture a world without uncertainty...  

Information becomes crystal clear; every new development screams implications, with no room for unknowns or doubts. We predict the future like it's second nature, effortlessly riding market shifts and securing resources like strategic superheroes. And guess what? Everyone's got this power!

But, uh-oh, when accurate foresight is universal, competition... well, it kinda takes a never-ending nap.

Capitalizing on Interpretation

So how's uncertainty a good thing, you ask?

The first organization that effectively embraces and acts upon uncertainties emerges as the winner. It has the advantage of developing and testing new processes, services, products, marketing campaigns, investments, and strategies ahead of the competition. By introducing a finished product before anyone else, it establishes a firm position to build upon.

Making sense of uncertainty is like interpreting a treasure map and being the first to discover the hidden loot!

Example

Consider Apple and the iPhone. In the early 2000s, the mobile phone market was highly competitive, with new players emerging. At the same time, consumers were becoming accustomed to easily accessible information on the Internet. New technologies and increased bandwidth enabled mobile web access, yet it remained uncertain if consumers would develop a need for instant information that mobile devices could satisfy.

In response to competition and evolving consumer preferences, Apple aimed to create a device that would eliminate the drawbacks of bulky phones and incorporate various technological advancements. They combined touchscreens, mobile internet, digital music, and social media into a single, user-friendly, elegant, and powerful device. Apple also established its own operating system and app store, providing greater control and flexibility over their devices and services. This approach differed from existing mobile phone vendors who relied on third-party platforms and carriers.

Apple placed its bet on the growing demand for information, entertainment, and communication facilitated by the internet, as well as the convenience and simplicity that consumers valued.

 

Risk Management as a Strategic Tool

Uncertainty and risk go hand in hand, no doubt about it. But those who quickly grasp the risks and craft clever strategies to manage them will effortlessly maneuver through the unknown. Embracing this proactive approach to risk will steer businesses toward stability and resilience.

Example

Groupon is an example of a company that has used risk management as a strategic tool. In the thick of the recession, Groupon promised to offer cash-strapped consumers a way to save money and drum up foot traffic for ailing brick-and-mortar businesses desperate for the spending the recession had made so scarce.

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Learning and Adaptability

Uncertainty forces businesses to learn and adapt. The first to make sense of the uncertainty and adjust their strategies accordingly will be ahead in the game. This agility and willingness to evolve can be a powerful differentiator in competitive industries.

Example

Netflix is an example of a company that evolved by learning from its mistakes during uncertainty. In 2011, Netflix faced uncertainty in the market. Streaming was still relatively new and rapidly evolving, with new competitors entering the market and changing consumer behaviors. Nobody knew how streaming would evolve and what and how intense its impact would be. At the time, Netflix announced a plan to split its DVD rental and streaming services into two separate businesses, with a significant price increase for customers who wanted to continue using both services. The announcement was met with widespread customer backlash, and Netflix’s stock price plummeted. Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, publicly apologized, and the company abandoned its plan to split the services. Instead, Netflix focused on improving its streaming service, investing in original content, and expanding its international presence. And the rest is history.

 

Seizing the Initiative

When faced with strategic uncertainty, the one who makes sense of the situation first and acts decisively can seize the initiative. In this way, they can shape the market conditions rather than merely reacting to them, thus gaining a competitive edge.

Example 

During a time of strategic uncertainty, Amazon emerged as a prime example of a company willing to take the initiative. In the early days of the internet, when the evolution of e-commerce and successful business models were shrouded in uncertainty, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, astutely perceived the internet's potential to revolutionize the retail landscape. Seizing the opportunity, he boldly launched an online bookstore, setting in motion a series of events that would change the course of retail history.

Amazon swiftly extended its offerings from books to encompass a vast array of products and services, spanning electronics, clothing, and cloud computing. By proactively seizing the initiative and taking decisive action, Amazon not only responded to market conditions but also sculpted them, securing a formidable competitive advantage.

Take Action

Thinking beyond traditional strategies and embracing uncertainty as an opportunity for innovation can give you a unique edge in the market. 

Develop a strategy for capitalizing on your interpretation of uncertainties while also mitigating risks related to potential pitfalls. 

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