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Do You Crave Certainty?

By April 27, 2017May 13th, 2020Advice, Business, Investments, Planning, Uncategorized

My crystal ball must be on the blink. I bought it in New Zealand so maybe it is only tuned to the local cosmic frequencies there, but despite having spent a deal of time gazing into it, I have been unable to see anything remotely resembling the future, other than my increasingly distorted reflection.

I understand the desire for certainty as much as the next person, but is it a realistic expectation? A certain very important person in my life is really upset when the weatherman gets it wrong, in either direction. So if rain is forecast and the day turns out to be sunny, she is just as upset as if the surprise downpour outside disturbs her plans for the day’s gardening. For her it is all about a need to be able to plan ahead. A sunny day when you expected rain means you are doing inside work when you would rather be outside. Rain on a day forecast for sunshine means you are unable to do the outside work you had planned. These are the kind of days when it is best for you to go to another room, trust me.

The thing is that whilst it is OK to plan your way forward based on your best guess as to the future, there is no certainty that you have guessed correctly. When we do our forecasts and projections we have to be aware that sometimes it will not just fall out the way we predicted. The trick is to attempt to place ourselves in a position where we have a pretty good idea about what might happen tomorrow, and to base our plans on that, but we can go no further. Sometimes this is insufficient for other important people in our lives, our employees and our clients/customers.

We see this desire for certainty manifest itself in employees when they express a wish to have a clear and well defined path of career progression. “If I do this, then I will get that”. This is very difficult for a small business owner (or any business owner if they are honest with themselves) to provide, given that we have no idea where our business will be at next month let alone next year. The owner has precisely zero certainty of his or her own future and that of the business, let alone that of their employees. Of course, with the best intention in the world, we can give assurances that if everything goes according to plan team members can expect a certain outcome, but of course it hardly ever does go according to plan. The less enlightened members of our teams are unable to accept the fact that their own future progression is bound up in the success of the business for which they work. Their demand that there be no conditions on their progress can mean that they will likely leave due to lack of certainty regardless of whether any guarantee you do provide has any sound basis. All you can do is be honest with them.

I work in a field where our customers can also sometimes expect a level of certainty which I am unable to deliver. “If I follow your advice then I will get this outcome”. I can bring my skills knowledge expertise and experience to bear on their circumstances, but without a working crystal ball (I have been unable to buy one anywhere in the world) I just cannot give any guarantee or certainty. What I am able to do, is to maximise the likelihood of a desired outcome by structuring my client’s affairs so they are best able to take advantage of favourable circumstances, whilst being protected as far as is possible from the potential downside of unfavourable ones. If the customer is unable to accept that, then it is either my task to educate them, or recommend they seek advice elsewhere from someone more adept at fortune telling than I am. We also need to factor in propensity for risk taking, but that is a subject for another day.

I would love to be able to predict the future, and I would love to be able to offer my clients and employees certainty. I would also like to offer my significant other a bullet proof weather forecast. Unless I am honest with them all about my inability to do so, I am deluding myself and them.  None of us should do that.

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