Nobody Knows The Future

Earlier today I was reading about the reorganisation that’s taking place within the Microsoft management team.  It’s the fourth major shakeup with the upper echelons of the Microsoft management team in the last five years – considering that Satya Nadella has been in charge for three years, that’s a fair amount of structural change.

The thing that caught my eye this time is that there is no longer a “Windows” division within the entire Microsoft management hierarchy.  The core OS falls under the Cloud and AI time with certain elements of the UI like the Start Button falling under the “Experiences” division.

If you had said to me five years ago that there wouldn’t be an executive at Microsoft with “Windows” in his title somewhere, I would have thought you were touched in the head.

But that just tells you, that predicting the future is kind of a mug’s game.

Interestingly, in my day job, I routinely have senior executives at clients say to me, “We need to make these big cloud and data centre decisions based on what’s coming in five or ten years.”

I tell them openly, “If you had tried to predict with any level of specificity where we would have been at 10 years ago, you would have missed by a country mile for the most part.  The best you can do is make sure that you short and medium term decisions give you a flexible enough platform off which to make future decisions without being locked into anything.”

In business, I think to try to look more the three years out just isn’t realistic with the rate of change we’re seeing.

This even applies to us and our smaller online businesses.

One thing that I do with Casual Marketer is to look at things in two-year cycles.

In 2015/2016 when I started Casual Marketer, I committed myself to two years to the physical newsletter.  I figured at the end of that two-year cycle I would either want to do something else or I’d make some changes and double down for another two years.

I decided in November that the December issue, marking two full years would be the end of the physical newsletter.  As I progressed throughout December and into January 2018, my next two-year plan started to evolve.

If you go back a few months, I said that I wanted the business to be more of an information product publishing company.  As the last few months have evolved, I’ve fleshed that out a bit more to be more detailed – I’m going to publish video training courses, write books and look at a more comprehensive membership model for disseminating the content.

But one thing I’m not doing is making any big five year bets on what the future looks like for my business.

The “big bet” approach is like anything there are upsides and downsides:

  • The upside is that if you invest today in the longer-term future and you pick it, you have first mover advantage and you’ll be ready to serve customers when the market catches up with you
  • The downside is that predicting the future is hard, you’re more than likely to be wrong and you will have wasted time and capital on something with no payoff.

If you want to hit it massively and get “foundation money” you need to make the big bets and take the risk.

I don’t really want to be Bruce Wayne level rich, so I’d rather improve my odds of success, keep my focus short to medium term and be able to adapt to the changing conditions in the market.

For people who are starting their own side hustle business or getting into freelancing for the first time, I would always suggest that you play it safe, keep your horizon near term and make your investments commensurate with having reasonable goals.  Give yourself the ability to make small adjustments along the journey and experiment without it becoming like trying to turn an aircraft carrier.

If you’re into big bets, I wish you well, but for the rest of us, I’d recommend just taking it easy and don’t over-extend yourself.  You’ll still have success, but you’ll skip the ulcers.

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