The future: how information and biases sway business planning

Unconscious biases can skew predictions when it comes to collecting business intelligence, assessing risks, and drawing up a strategy for your architectural practice. Fortunately, there are ways of overcoming them, including by using Listenback(i), the client feedback tool for architects.

Business strategy and planning is the art of predicting the future political, social and economic landscape, understanding how they might affect your sector and business, and producing a cunning plan to take advantage of the resulting intel.

Even in ‘normal’ times it’s a severe test of your powers of prophesy. In the current atmosphere, when the political climate is historically unpredictable and the threat of a no-deal Brexit could seriously damage your whole business, it seems nigh on impossible.

As I see it, any attempt at prediction requires you to overcome three fundamental headscratchers:

1.     Uncertainty and volatility. A project put on hold, a technological change, a regulatory U-turn, an economic recession – you are at the mercy of uncontrollable currents.

2.     Incomplete data, complexity, and ambiguity. You rarely have all the info at your fingertips when making the assumptions that underpin your strategic direction. Or if you do, they are so convoluted and contradictory, it’s impossible to make sense of them.

3.     Poor judgement. Call it what you will – wishful thinking, prejudice, opinion, blindspots, baseless conviction, under- or over-confidence – we are riddled with biases that impede good judgement. This can turn good intel into bad decisions.

Fortunately, there are ways around all three. The Harvard Business Review has a handy infographic giving clues for dealing with the first two. There are ways of handling even ambiguity, or ‘unknown unknowns’. Here, the solution is to experiment to understand cause and effect, and have a way of measuring outcomes that allow you to learn.

Covering the question of poor judgement, you could do worse than plunder the work of Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, whose experiments in prediction claw the topic back from realm of magic into some form of rationality.

Their 2015 book Superforecasting: the Art and Science of Prediction is a highly readable primer. It synthesizes an impressive body of experimental research over decades to conclude that, provided what you’re predicting isn’t too far in the future, it is possible to improve accuracy by changing how you think.

For the best soothsayers – so-called ‘superforecasters’ – “beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.” The authors spell out what they mean by ‘testing’ in their Ten Commandments. It is the deliberate process of collecting information, looking at it from multiple different perspectives, exploiting the wisdom of crowds, sleeping on it, aggregating your findings, and updating them often.

Importantly for those of us who might feel slightly daunted by all of that, it seems that these skills can be learned.

You will note that none of these tactics is possible without information – lots of it. When it comes to business strategy and planning, this includes not just external intel about your competitors, sectoral trends, the economy, and so on, but also stuff about your business’s performance, including, crucially since they are the source of your income, how you are perceived by your clients.

There are few topics that architects are blinder to, and more resistant to updating their beliefs about, than the noble purpose behind their profession and its received wisdom. This is dangerous. A false picture of how you are perceived by your clientele has the potential to throw a gigantic spanner into the works of any otherwise well-founded forward-planning.

Chuck in a deeply unpredictable Brexit context, and this bias could veer your plan off course in dramatic fashion.

Being blinkered to the needs of your clients risks you taking a wrong turn.

Part of the solution is Listenback, the free-to-use client feedback tool for architects. Using it will not only confirm or dispel your biases, it will also help to calibrate your business plan to reality. It will generate a valuable set of ongoing data to benchmark your practice over time, identify weaknesses and strengths, and track improvements continuously.

Listenback can open your eyes to what’s really going on…

Have a look. Incorporate it into your working practices. Use it to gain a market advantage or to maintain your ISO 9001 certification.

(i) Listenback is mentioned as a way to secure client feedback in Nigel Ostime’s just published essay in Defining Contemporary Professionalism: For Architects in Practice and Education, by Rob Hyde and the RIBA’s new President, Alan Jones.

#clientfeedback #listenback #businessplanning #servicedesign #prediction #superforecasting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *