Learning the Market

If you’re running a business, you have to be driven by success. So much is resting on your shoulders: the expectations of your customers, your ability to provide for yourself and your family, your employees who look to you for pay. Failure means letting down customers who rely on you, who may well see a business arrangement as a personal relationship, it means difficult times for you, your family and the employees who trusted you.

It’s more than clear that success is the most important thing you can shoot for, and every other aim is merely a step on the way. Innovation is a fine thing to value, but only in so far as it helps you succeed as a business, for example.

One thing that you need to succeed is to know your market. You need to know it in all its seasons, all its moods and all its behaviours. You need market intelligence delivered to your desk constantly so you can make the right decisions about what to do in the event of a new competitor emerging, a new product hitting the market, or any change that has the capacity to affect your business.

Without this kind of insight, you won’t even be able to recognise all of the things that could have an effect, let alone react to them effectively. The out of context problem, first defined by sci-fi author Iain M Banks describes a culture obliterated by a problem they don’t even have the understanding to frame effectively, let alone understand and respond to – picture the plight of the Aboriginals in Australia witnessing the sails of ships appear on the horizon, unable to see the relationship between those and their own canoes let alone predict the fatal impact the imperial settlers would have on their civilisation.

Businesses are just as vulnerable to an out of context problem, so it falls on you as the leader to expand your contextual understanding as much as possible to avoid unnecessary surprises. Engage in research that can help you predict long term trends as well as maximising your returns from changes in the short term.

As well as having a thorough research programme, you can also expand your understanding by making sure your hiring is diverse. People from different backgrounds bring new kinds of understanding, so make sure you’re putting them in senior roles. If your executive team all look and think like you, you’re limiting your ability to understand and predict your market and could be wiped out by the next unexpected sail on the horizon.

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