Darren Lawrence

What’s that coming over the hill? Horizon scanning in a pandemic

On holiday in Cornwall last month, me together with members of my family were on the beach at Praa Sands enjoying the day when, in the distance, we could see worrying looking dark storm clouds heading our way. For a while, we debated whether to stay or take refuge, and eventually we decided to pack everything up and head back up the steep hill to our accommodation.

We took action based on what we were seeing and anticipating, perhaps on previous experience, and what we thought could be the impact were we to stay, i.e. none of us were keen to get soaked! As it happened, the direction of the clouds changed slightly, and we missed the worst of the downpour. Those familiar with Cornwall will know, the weather there is very changeable and 10 minutes later the sun was shining again, as if nothing had happened!

On reflection, I considered this to be a good example of what is known as ‘horizon scanning’, a phrase that has been around for a few years but is being increasingly used in business, and in these rapidly changing times of uncertainty, the need for it seems particularly pertinent to how we are living our lives currently.

What is Horizon Scanning?

The term ‘Horizon Scanning’ itself came to prominence in UK government in the early 2000’s and since 2013 the Government has had a Horizon Scanning Programme team.

It has been defined as follows –

“Horizon scanning, in its broadest sense, is an attempt to systematically imagine the future in order to better plan a response. In the absence of a crystal ball, it can help organisations to detect signals, identify trends and think more inventively about what the future might hold, enabling them to capitalise on opportunities and better mitigate threats. It is a crucial activity for any organisation tasked with long-term decision-making.

(House of Commons Science and Technology Committee)

We can apply this to our everyday lives. How your individual horizon is looking may differ, depending on where your personal and professional life is right now. However, the principle remains the same.

Is what you are doing now going to prepare you effectively and stand you in good stead for what is about to come over the next 3, 6, 12 months?

As a self employed consultant and life/business coach, personally I am thinking about the period from now until Christmas, in terms of priorities, work projects, potential income, what I want to do and where I want the business to be. I also have some medium to long term aspirations and goals. The challenge with this is that there are clouds on the horizon, but knowing when they will approach, at what speed, and what will happen when they do, is unknown. There is no crystal ball. In some respects, this has always been the case, but in a pandemic, things seem magnified somewhat. I am scanning the horizon by watching and listening to the news, gaining information from social media (making a call on what I find useful and not useful), speaking to colleagues, friends and family, and getting a sense of what the situation is in the sectors I am working in.

How are you scanning the horizon?

All of us personally and in every sector of business are, more than ever, currently facing uncertainty. One way to mitigate this and to be as prepared as possible is to undertake a type of horizon scan, by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are my short-term priorities right now?
  • What is my long term goal?
  • What is the current situation, if I am being honest with myself?
  • What do I need to do to fully prepare for the next few months and any unexpected changes?
  • How can I be adaptable and agile to deal with what may come?
  • Who can help me?
  • If there are changes in my personal situation, what can I do, what are my options?
  • If there are changes to my working situation, what can I do, what are my options?
  • Amidst all this uncertainty, what is certain? What/who can I rely on?
  • What opportunities are there?
  • What have I learned from this year, what can I take from it and use as a positive in the future?
  • What’s good in my personal and/or working life, and what am I looking forward to?
  • What will I do now after reading this blog article?

One thing is certain and that is we should all expect the unexpected. Less than a year ago few of us knew what ‘furlough’ meant, let alone understood what an R number was and wearing face masks was the preserve of dentists and nail bar technicians. Carrying on head down and ignoring what is all around us ostrich-like is not an option if we wish to not only survive but thrive and prosper.

Finally, there could be a temptation to be fearful about the future and catastrophise especially in uncertain times. However if we have scanned the horizon, thought about the potential threats and what may happen, but have done the thinking, preparation and taken steps to mitigate as much as possible against these, with our heads up, eyes wide, and mind open we will be much better placed to come out the other side in a positive place.

Darren Lawrence is a qualified Personal Performance Coach and works with both individuals and organisations to help them achieve their goals. For more information about how coaching can help you during times of change please get in touch using the ‘contact’ tab above.