I now take it as a given that there isn’t a whole lot we can take for certain anymore. I do know that the love of my wife and children is unshakeable, that the sun will always rise in the east, and that I am unlikely to ever acquire a taste for broccoli. Beyond that, much of life seems to be like the proverbial bowl of jelly that I keep trying to nail to the wall. But the fact that I cannot foretell the future and therefore prepare for it perfectly, does not mean that I cannot be prepared for the future.

Much of life is based upon assumptions, few of them are locks. Some of the assumptions I make are good and some are not so good. The same can be said for assumptions we use every day in business planning. More importantly for this discussion, some are more critical to the success of any given proposition, and some are more vulnerable to failure. Understanding which assumptions fall into those two categories is important in shaping strategy and actions during an endeavor. So important in fact, that identifying these two categories of assumptions is critical to the success of any initiative or project undertaken in an environment of uncertainty.

Those assumptions most critical to success must be supported. Actions should be ordered with intent to ensure that assumptions most critical to the initiative’s success are borne out. Likewise, those assumptions most vulnerable to failure should be identified and watched closely. It is critical to keep the pulse of these two categories of assumptions because knowing their health allows you to act and react appropriately. The question then becomes how to do so.

Tactic: Look into the future and define scenarios that will indicate an assumption is succeeding or failing, then develop a playbook of response actions BEFORE you launch the initiative. The signposts will be your trail guides. Your playbook of shaping and hedging actions will allow you to move swiftly once you recognize the state of a key assumption, to either support the success of the assumption, redirect actions to improve the odds of a faltering assumption, or take actions required to limit the damage of a failing assumption. These shaping and hedging actions are critical elements in the execution of strategic plans, but you must recognize the need for them before it is too late for them to be effective. That requires objectivity and a willingness to act when needed, regardless of how safe you thought your assumptions to be. Believe in them, but also be vigilant and prepared to act.