How to Succeed from Crisis to Crisis with Market Intelligence?
Do you believe that we will get back to normal? Something that we had pre-COVID, pre-Russia-Ukraine-war, pre-Energy-crisis, pre-record-breaking-inflation? Probably not. Yet, most of us, when we look at the business environment as a decision maker, or leader of an organisation, want to believe that things will eventually get back to normal. However, no matter how great and smooth it would be to have things nicely under control, static, without disruptions, we won’t be getting back to normal any time soon. Instead, expect to face an ever-increasing pace of changes and disruption.
So what is this post-normal era? What does it look like as a business environment? And what kind of market intelligence does it require?
Welcome to Post-Normal Times!
“Post-normal” as a concept was introduced by Sardar as far back as 2010. In his definition, post-normal is the era between the old ”normal” and the new emerging. It is a yet un-named, un-defined era between old and new paradigm.
As a business environment “post-normal” in Sardar’s view is characterised by complexity, chaos and contradiction. In their recent book on strategic thinking, Juuti & Luoma, discuss the complexity of the current business environment. They describe this post-normal as fragmented, ambiguous, volatile, unlinear, noisy, unclear, unsafe, whirlwindy, and blurred. Ridderståle & Birkinshaw also see that we are currently between paradigms, saying we are in an era full of paradoxes. Kay & King argue how post-normal is full of radical uncertainties, mysteries (as an opposite to ”solvable” uncertainties, puzzles).
For business questions and decision-making, the post-normal time, filled with radical uncertainties, means that most business issues are level 3 business problems. In the context of Level 1 business questions being tame, easy, something that you can calculate, or that an algorithm can solve. Level 2 business questions are messy, hypothetical, with several possible answers, and level 3 business problems are wicked, foggy, and dynamic, where we do not even know exactly what problem is to be solved and it is constantly changing.
Most organisations and leaders are excellent at solving business puzzles. Thus, many leaders want to see these post-normal era’s wicked mysteries as solvable puzzles and are using the same strategic tools and intelligence as they have always used. Instead, market intelligence practices needs to be adapted to the post-normal condition to support in solving these mysteries. We see five ways market intelligence can help strategic leaders to succeed in the post-normal times.
Political Intelligence – Make geopolitical monitoring great again
Why should a company take into account politics in their decision making?
The effect of geopolitics on decision making and the business environment has become evident with the present war raging in Europe. The evolution of the current geopolitical environment has taken place over a longer period of time. The megatrend, shift of economic power has led and is leading to changes to balance of power relationships. Obviously in many countries domestic politics plays its part in the development of foreign politics as well as spilling into the geopolitical scene.
Of course, there have always been crises and wars. Today globalization accelerates the effect of these on our business environment. Disturbances to fragile supply chains can have major consequences.
The political field should also be looked at in more detail than great power politics.
We have many far-reaching issues in the world to deal with that require regulatory frameworks on a global and more local scale. The development of regulations will have a huge effect on many industries. Sustainability, environment, energy, security, labor legislation, to name a few areas where changes in regulation can have a massive impact.
Lastly, in the recent years there has been a noticeable polarization of opinions within societies, driven, for example, by social media algorithms. This polarization of course is reflected in the political field as well. The views of the political parties on certain issues might be very far from one another. This means that when there is a change in political leadership, the effects on a particular industry, or to an individual company, could be extensive.
Anomaly Intelligence – Look outside the borders
Complexity in the operating environments has increased substantially. The context that a company in any industry operates in, portrays very differently to that of say 15 years ago. New competition has in many occasions caused disruption from outside the established industry. Customer behavior and expectations change all the time as the services and apps we consume in everyday life evolve and modify our preferences.
These changes mean that in today’s world it is not by any measure enough to look at only your own current operating environment. One needs to look outside the borders to identify the anomalies that act as change drivers.
At the same time the amount of information out there has grown to be so vast that we simply cannot have our eyes on everything that is happening. We need to be able to keep the focus, but also explore the unknown. Company’s market intelligence needs to be able to stretch beyond the boundaries in terms of data as well as analyzing it.
Foresight Intelligence – Seek optionality & flexibility in strategic alternatives
Ideally, each organisation should build its own unique view about the future via strategic foresighting. First understanding, what are the organisation’s assumptions and beliefs about the future. Then naming the relevant trigger points, signposts and metrics to enable seeing the changes in the business environment before others. As post-normal times are complex, even chaotic, it is crucial to acknowledge that these trigger points and signposts need to be updated as soon as an organisation identifies new unknowns.
In a context, filled with radical uncertainties, a good strategy admits that we do not know what will happen in the future. Instead, a good strategy visualizes different scenarios, what could happen. Also, the way of making strategic decisions should change from selecting a choice linearly to creating different options. Seeking optionality builds resilience.
It is rare for all strategic foresighting capabilities to be be found inside an organisation. True forerunners have thought-provoking sources and external partners, or as Verganti urges, interpreters who bring future views outside the usual.
Unique Intelligence – Make serendipitous discoveries with data
Market data as such does not bring you competitive edge. There is too much data available, at low cost or free of charge, to anybody. When business aims to uniqueness in the post-normal times, the usual market analysis doesn’t bring competitive edge either. Christensen points this out brilliantly by saying, a ”market that does not exist, cannot be analysed”.
Christensen urges us to embrace discovery-driven learning. To get to the level of unique, the key is in organisation’s capability to process market data. That the organisation is capable in discovering from the data something that others are not seeing.
How to see and find something that others can’t? Mintzberg says to look into six directions: 1) down (inside the organisation, crm/erp/etc. data), 2) sideways (outside the organisation, e.g., customers, competitors), 3) forward (foresighting), 4) backwards (organisation’s capabilities), 5) up (big picture, across the industries), and finally 6) beyond the existing (visioning, imagining, unique views about what could be possible).
The need hierarchy for strategic market intelligence consists of three layers. Foundation is the basic intelligence about your competitive landscape and customers. In the middle, the extended, industry-boundless business environment intelligence. At the very top, the differentiating, unique comptetitiveness bringing intelligence. This can be reached with serendipitious, abductive data processing and analysis. It is an organisation’s ability to ”play” with market intelligence, connecting versatile data sources, voices and insights, and ability make creative discoveries from data.
Dynamic intelligence – Be flexible and fast!
When the cycles are shorter, and things happen much faster than before, we are expected to be fast, dynamic, and agile as well. The business processes are expected to adapt to this new fast reality.
We need agility to be able to modify our activities inside the strategy cycles. This needs to be done in a coordinated manner, at the same time maintaining the focus on what we are trying to accomplish. This also exerts a huge pressure on market intelligence and the monitoring of our external environment.
Key sources used in this blog post:
*As noted already in the first issue of Harvard Business Review in October 1922.
Kay & King (2020): Radical Uncertainty – Decision-Making Beyond The Numbers
Riddenstråle & Birkinshaw (2017): Fast/Forward – Make Your Company Fit For The Future
Juuti & Luoma (2022): Strateginen ajattelu ja johtaminen – matka läpi maailmankuvien
Kosonen & Santalainen (2022): Elinvoimaetu
Christensen (1997): Innovator’s Dilemma
Taleb (2012): Antifragile
Leskelä (2021): Bisnesantropologia
Busch (2020): The Serendipity Mindset
Sardar (2010): Welcome to Postnormal Times https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S001632870900202X
Mankins & Gottfredson: Strategy-Making in Turbulent Times. Harvard Business Review, Sep-Oct 2022.
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