You can plan for an uncertain future. You’ve been doing it for your entire business life.

Whatever type of business you manage, whether new or long established, it has always operated in uncertain times.

We like to think that the world is a stable and ordered place and against that cherished belief the pandemic seems like a tsunami coming from a calm horizon or an asteroid falling from a clear, blue sky. We simply don’t know what to do. We barely know what to think.

In point of fact, hasn’t the pandemic demonstrated the flexibility and resilience of UK business?

If before COVID-19, we had been told – for some good reason – to persuade millions of people to work from home, hands would have been thrown in the air and voices raised at the impossibility of the task. However, official figures show remote working hit a high of 38% in 2020 and a recent YouGov poll shows that 57% of those who were working from home before the outbreak want to be able to continue working that way.

If the digital gurus and the ecommerce mavens had been told to turbocharge the growth of online shopping they would have demanded stellar marketing budgets and long timelines yet last year 87% of British households purchased online. The growth in online shopping caused by the pandemic is expected to add £5.3bn to UK ecommerce sales this year alone.

Notes and coins have increasingly been looking like a legacy system we no longer needed. Even back in 1997 – when being briefed by Visa – I was told they saw their main competitor as cash. Now the UK has transitioned from paper money to paperless and that trend is already so well established that we are unlikely to go back.

The future has always been uncertain; a shifting landscape of new trends, new competition, new laws and new economic circumstances. Businesses have adapted to these changes either to avoid problems or take advantage of opportunities. It’s in the nature of business that change is constant. What stuns us today is the scope and scale of the changes that COVID-19 and our responses to it has brought.

So what are we to do?

We do what we have always done.

Write a strategy or make a plan – or rather be in the process of planning and strategic thinking. It might seem that you can’t accurately prepare either in the face of such enormous uncertainty but the point is that every strategy you have ever made was launched into a sea of uncertainty – and I’m sure many of them floated rather well.

Time spent thinking, will always be time well spent and thinking creatively will pay the best dividends of all.

And whatever you do, let your plans change as circumstances change. A strategy should always be agile, it should always adapt. It should always be a ‘living document’.

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