Thoughts on Navigating an Uncertain Environment

Last spring, things in the grain world were a mess. Huge swaths of the country were late planting or not planting at all. The general sense was that this was a different kind of year, and while there were plenty of things to argue about, one uniting factor was a nearly universal belief that we were going to be very short of grain and the prices would be a lot higher as a result.

This spring, things in the grain world are a mess. Huge swaths of the country are planting at a rapid pace in excellent conditions. Demand has taken a serious hit and the outlook for a quick recovery seems dim. The general sense is that this is a different kind of year, and while there are plenty of things to argue about, one uniting factor is a nearly universal belief that we are going to be very long on grain and prices will be a lot lower as a result.

Challenge: name a spring that you couldn’t write a paragraph like this about for at least somebody somewhere in North America if not continent-wide.

Here’s what I think I’m learning from thinking about this:

We work in an uncertain environment
There will always be unknowns, unforeseens, and unprecedenteds. Some years will have them in greater numbers or severity, but every year will have them. There is no escaping this.

We face several powerful mental/emotional traps
Recency bias – this is the tendency to forget the big picture and think that whatever is happening now good, or bad, is normal and likely to continue

Zeitgeist – when everything we see, hear, and read reaches the same conclusion it’s easy to get drawn into agreement, especially when that conclusion is reasonable and supported by things easily and widely observable – but that doesn’t make it true or inevitable

Regret avoidance – we (human beings, that is) do not like to experience regret and will try hard to avoid being put in a position to do so

These are very real, most human beings are subject to them, and they will cause you to lose momentum. The good news is that simply being aware of them diminishes their power.

Uncertainty is opportunity
As comfortable as certainty might be, when everything can be known in advance there is no opportunity. Fortunately, we operate in business sector with plenty of uncertainty.

Decision-making and action are curatives
None of us can control everything, and most of us can only control a very few things. Faced with this reality, there is a temptation to lapse into inaction - but that only compounds the problem. Conversely, making decisions and acting on the things we do have control of acts as a great cure for anxiety and despair.

What now?
Find the opportunity in uncertainty, find things that you can make decisions about and act on, avoid mental traps, and keep moving. We have a lot of people to help and important work to do.