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Did the long-established taxi industry foresee the disruptive rise of Uber?

Were brick and mortar retailers prepared for the online assault of Amazon?

Would anyone have predicted the sharp drop in oil prices of the past 12 months?

The Flexible StanceBusiness owners and managers are living in a less predictable world - a world more cyclical and harder to forecast than any period of the past 25 years, says Bill Conerly, Oregon economist and book author. That is why, he explains in his new book, “The Flexible Stance: Thriving in a Boom/Bust Economy,” that building flexibility into everyday business decisions is essential to survival.

“We were lulled into a sense of having it all figured out during an (economically) unusual calm period from the early 1980s to 2007,” said Conerly who writes for Forbes magazine and serves on the Oregon Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.

He sees the world changing more rapidly than it has in a generation.

“During this 25-year period we saw only two recessions and they were both mild. Prior to that there were bigger ups and downs and more change,” he said. “We walked into the Great Recession with leaders who had gone through a very calm era.”

Conerly admits that even economists got it wrong and that some of their forecasting models are no longer working in the new economic environment.

In the recovery, now going on seven years, business leaders and others face a more globalized economy, more disruption from unexpected competition and more potential for change.

Meanwhile, he argues that behavior that may have worked to get someone into top management, may not be the best leadership style when they land the CEO job.

Leadership in the new environment requires humility and certainly more flexibility. The goals are less obvious.

Conerly suggests that successful leaders should picture themselves as a runner leading off first base in a baseball game. The player is ready to either leap back to first base to avoid being picked off, or ready to dash to second with the hope of eventually scoring. This flexible stance is easy to apply to business and organizational management and good managers may have been doing all along.

Interactive assignments

Using interactive worksheets, Conerly takes his readers through a planning process that results in options for both growth as well as for contraction. This planning can apply to private business, nonprofits and government agencies, he notes.

“Contingency planning for external risks such as recession is the centerpiece of The Flexible Stance,” Conerly said. “I do know that speed in decision-making reduces risk by speeding up the response to a recession, if it happens, and allows for quickly building strength in an expansion.”

The Flexible Stance first asks readers to list “critical external assumptions about the future that affect your business or organization.” Then rate those assumptions for probability - low, medium or high. Readers then are invited to complete an online assessment of how ready their business or groups is for uncertainty.

“In the first half of 2008, economists estimated the probability of the economy declining at less than 30 percent over the first half of 2009,” he said. “In other words, planning your business based on the consensus of economists would have been disastrous - and it was for many managers.”

The right planning decisions are not hard to figure out, he said, but they require a discipline to think through the ways to achieve flexibility. The key is knowing that change is the only certainty.

Defining key risks, opportunities

Instead of setting a single sales goal or focusing only on growth, Conerly asks readers to think about potential technological change that might affect the operation as well as the key risks facing their business or organization.

Importantly, listen to your target audience, Conerly said.

“After considering the downside possibilities and developing contingencies, the growth-oriented leader is free to focus attention on the upside,” he said. “Once you have some flexibility around forecasting, then things can fall into place. By taking a humble approach to forecasting, leadership can make flexible plans to take advantage of opportunities that arise while protecting themselves from risk,” he said.

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