In the face of uncertainty

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  • Tuesday, 30 Dec 2014

Be optimistic: A man carries a child on his back as they visit an annual lights festival in a Beijing shopping mall. The months-long festival spans Christmas and New Year, giving retailers a chance to boost sales as they ring in the new year.

By the time you read this article, we are on the threshold of a new year. Many business folks have expressed their sentiments on the coming year — some are optimistic and some not so. The truth of the matter is that while all of us want to be optimistic, fear and uncertainty linger.

If only we can gaze into a crystal ball at the beginning of each year and see into our future.

If yes, we can make plans, we can prepare for the undesirable and make improvements to do better. But then again, uncertainty is part of life.

In Mandarin, business is also called shengyi – the word ‘sheng’ means ‘life’ and ‘yi’ is translated as ‘meaning or desire’.

I suspect if we could really see into the future and make the necessary changes or take preventive actions, we would not like it very much because, then there is no ‘meaning’ to life. The ups and downs, good and bad, as well as all the unknowns are what make business interesting.

Somewhere deep within Africa, lies the Mara River and every year, more than a million wildebeest cross this crocodile-infested river to the other side, in search of greener pastures. Many successfully make the crossing, despite the raging waters and the predators that lurk beneath. But many also die, either taken by crocodiles or swept away by strong currents. Interestingly, for most part of the year, the Mara River is relatively calm, but violent torrents form when there is rain in other areas.

Notwithstanding the dangers and the fatality rates, this great migration takes place every year as the herds follow their instincts, going where there is rain and new grass. I am sure as each wildebeest makes that crossing, they have no idea whether they will survive. Yet into the river, they must go.

So it is with business. Who can tell which business will make it and which will not? Or which new product will sell like hot cakes or which will be a total flop? Why is it that some people seem to make money with relative ease while others, after much labour and toil and despite the best of intentions, have none? How can we predict which customer will walk into our door and know which will be loyal and which will be unprofitable? How can we foresee that some customers will not pay up or know exactly when a new, totally unknown competitor will emerge to turn the tables on us?

The fact is, we cannot tell and we will not know. When I was about to write this column, I received a call from an entrepreneur friend in another country. He confided in me that he had to fold two out of his three businesses this year as they had been making losses.

It turned out the businesses he closed were the ones he had invested the most time and money in, being entirely new set-ups.

The third which was a takeover of a failing company, turned out to be the one that made money in the end. Who could have foreseen that?

There are many things we can do something about but there are also many that are beyond our control. But much like the wildebeest, every 12 months, we business folks make that crossing into the unknown of a new year. Possibly, sometimes some of us are unsure whether we will survive for another year, but we are optimistic.

We cross over to the new year with an eye on something greater and better, with new hope and anticipation. We take to heart learnings from the previous year and take stock of what was gained and lost.

We look not only at opportunities for the business but also at threats — both within the market and beyond. If we have come across new strong competitors this year, perhaps we can look at them as allies in new ventures this coming year? Who knows? We should keep an open mind.

Whatever the new year brings — whether good or bad, we should go forward with the aim to emerge strong!

¦ Jeanisha wishes everyone a Happy New Year. She wishes to thank those who read this column over the past three years. She continues to be reachable at

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Business , Opinion , Starting Out column


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