The HeadScratcher Post Archive
August 2008
Surprise vs. Predictability
        August 2008  The Headscratcher Post © Headscratchers LLC   Edition 40
Surprise vs. Predictability

Surprise:  transitive verb: An unpredictable event.  To encounter the unexpected.

People generally donít like Surprises, but do like Predictability.
Employees, Customers, Investors, Partners, Managers and Executives all like to have predictability.  Upside surprises are great, but often considered lucky and certainly less common than the oops, uh-oh, and all the other surprises that diminish the ability to have predictability and therefore credibility and reliability.

A random event.   Quantum physicists know about this.  A random event cannot be predicted or duplicated, itís  a Surprise!   Like the spontaneous creation of a matter - antimatter pair.  See any of these in your marketing plan?   Random events are uncommon, especially in business.

If an event isnít Random, then it must be predictable.  Think about this:  If most events are not random, then most events are predictable.  All the successes and failures, the hits and misses, are all predictable.   So why then is it so hard to predict an event or an outcome?

The key to predictability is understanding the variables that guide the outcome.  In order to predict an outcome you have to understand the variables that drive the outcome.  Take the weather.  While predictions are getting better, the variables, i.e. temperature, sun activity, wind, carbon dioxide levels, etc. and how they interact, are still not well understood and therefore the accuracy of predictions vary greatly.  So is Predictability only a theory?  Can you accurately predict complicated issues?

Business outcomes are also complex with a multitude of variables that affect the outcome.   This is what makes predictions so difficult.  Not only do you have to know what the variables are that drive the outcome and how they interact with each other, but you need a way to measure them as well.   Think about a product launch, or a sales forecast, or a customer retention effort.  Since there are so many variables that influence these, and some not easily measurable or understood, how can you predict an outcome?

Close matters!  OK, we yield to the fact that while in theory you should be able to predict most outcomes, in practice, the number of variables, their interaction and measurability is often just plain unknown, at least for the present.   BUT, if you spend a little time thinking about the possible variables, how to measure them, how they might interact, youíll be able to define some of them, and be a lot better off than if you didnít.  Itís better to know that a hurricane has a 60% chance of hitting you, then not knowing about it at all.  Itís better to know you have a high confidence in a schedule, then just a shoulder shrug.  The more you understand about the drivers of an event, the more accurate you will be able to predict itís outcome Ö because it is not random.

Begin by asking;
- What are the variables that drive the outcome?
- How do they affect the outcome?
- Can you measure them?
- How do they interact with each other?
Attempting to answer these four questions will go a long way in improving your understanding of what drives the outcome, and therefore improve your ability to predict it.

The Takeaway:   Almost everything is predictable, but many outcomes are very difficult to predict because the variables that drive the outcome are either unknown or difficult to measure.  However, you can improve your ability to predict an outcome by thinking about the drivers, how you can measure them, and how they interact with each other.  Try it Ö youíll be pleased with how much progress you can make.

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