Every silver lining has a cloud

Jun 14, 2022

No, I haven’t got that backwards.  Right now, the world is looking pretty grey.  There are clouds massing everywhere you look, inflation, material shortages, people shortages, warfare, and the big black cloud of climate change on the horizon.

If you are trying to run a business in the middle of all this, it can be hard to stay objective.  There is no sunny side of the street.  This is the moment to start asking the serious questions about your business and to quantify what the risk really is and what impact it could have on you, your staff, and your balance sheet. As a business leader this is your duty, to your customers, your people, and your shareholders.  But your duty is not just to look on the dark side, it’s also to look for the opportunities that are hidden in the clouds.  What if we turned risk management on its head and thought about opportunity management instead?

Scientists were predicting a pandemic for years, but when the thinking was done by those assigned to assess the risk and the costs of mitigation were quantified, governments and companies decided it was all too expensive to prepare for, so we’ll ignore it until it happens.

How, for example,  can we fund a vaccine when we don’t know what the next pandemic is going to be?  Turns out you can get quite a long way with creating a platform and then twiddling with it when you know what you are facing.  And when you do, the rewards for being first to market are huge. War is a disaster for those in the middle of it but for many industries it’s a major opportunity.

There's a silver lining hiding in that cloud, and you need to go looking for it.  The problem is that, contrary to the proverb, not all clouds have silver linings.  Some are just filled with disaster.  You have to keep prodding and thinking and planning until you see a glint of silver and then follow it. It may be a silver horde but then again it may not be and time has been wasted.  It's also counter to the things we are taught:  focus on delivery, on execution, and above all, stick to the plan.

We assess people on their ability to do. “You’ve done some wonderful thinking in the last year” is a comment that rarely appears in anyone’s assessment, or if it does it is followed by “but we had to mark you down because of your failure to deliver.”

Thinking is less valued than doing in the business world – we banish full time thinkers to universities. But humanity has only evolved because someone (probably a stroppy teenager) thought “what goes on over that hill?" and in spite of being told to get on with what they were doing thought "I’m going to have a look”.  We must learn to think and plan as much as learn to plan and do. That means taking the time and learning the skills to think.  Developing thinking structures and methodologies is critical for the future of any business. Maybe that means less doing but if that allows us to find the silver lining in the cloud it will be time profitably spent.