If you follow the news, you have heard business leaders and political leaders respond to a valid question with the response… “I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals.”
In an effort to decode what this unusual statement means; I believe it means the person is not going to give a full and real response unless every fact is known and everything is certain. And even then, they most likely will hedge giving a meaningful response.
Unfortunately, shareholders, consumers, and the general public dislike inauthentic responses like this and in many cases this approach simply won’t work.
In the business world, leaders must comment and respond to hypotheticals every day. That’s why they are paid to be leaders. Think about all the elements of business where leaders must respond to and communicate hypotheticals. My career’s work has been dedicated to the design, development, and delivery of leadership and business simulations that build skills and enhance capabilities to improve business performance. As I was absorbing and thinking about all this talk related to “hypotheticals,” it occurred to me that the business simulations we create are nothing more than tools to build the skills needed to make smart decisions based on one’s ability to understand the hypotheticals and turn them into realities.
Here are 5 things business leaders do that are based on hypotheticals which can be enhanced through practicing and learning in digital business simulations:
A business strategy is an intricate web of hypotheticals formulated in the presentation of a value proposition to customers. “We will offer our customers the best, most innovative products in the market,” is a value proposition based on the hypotheticals that there are customers willing to pay for and purchase the innovative products and the company can execute on the value proposition. There are critical and deep skills embedded in these and other areas related to the hypotheticals of customers and ability to execute.
In actuality, the world of finance is one big hypothetical that revolves around an organization’s ability to make projections, give guidance, and then meet the guidance through strategy and execution. Having the skills to understand “Pro-Forma” (forecasted) P&Ls, Balance Sheets, and Cash Flow reports is a critical capability.
One of the foundational elements of being a leader is setting and achieving specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based goals. When you think about it, isn’t a goal just another “hypothetical?” A goal is what you think the organization and people can achieve based on hypothetical assumptions and data.
Coaching is another foundational business leadership capability based on the hypothetical underpinning that if you provide another person with guidance and feedback on performance they will improve. And everything that I’ve seen supports that approach if you have the best capabilities to deliver effective coaching and feedforward.
People don’t mind change, they mind being changed. And yet again, change is nothing more than a hypothetical being played out in real-time. “We are going to change our entire Supply Chain Management system by implementing a hot new ERP system.” The hypothetical is that the new system will significantly improve than the previous one. How one manages and leads the change effort is the driving force behind success or failure.
Building the Skill of Educated Guessing Through Practice
Professional athletes call them “repetitions” in practice. The opportunity to do basic and advanced skills over and over again so they become muscle memory in the heat of the moment of competition. Why not use that same approach in business? Business simulations are repetitions and practice of setting and executing strategy, understanding financial statements and metrics, setting goals, coaching, and leading change. The more you practice, the more you will be able to take the hypotheticals out of the equation when it presents itself in a real-life situation. For example, one of the most difficult parts of change is having those difficult conversations with direct reports when they think they are about to lose their jobs. But how much easier is it when you’ve practiced and learned the best practices in a simulated, risk-free environment?
In summary, using the term, “I don’t deal with hypotheticals” is nothing more than an excuse for not doing the work needed to build the skills to take the risk out of making decisions. The use of training simulations are great tools for building skills and applying the best practices that will take risk away and provide the opportunity to make confident business decisions that lead to positive results.