Making business decisions in tumultuous times

February 04, 2020

I recently returned from a trip to Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa that is unknown to most Americans. Those who are familiar with the country know it mostly because of its poverty, corruption, and the high incidence of terrorism and fatal violence.

People in the know were incredulous that I traveled there voluntarily—with my husband and children. There are weekly terrorist activities in the country; the literacy rate is the lowest of all African nations; and the average life expectancy is only 55 years (compared to 80 in the United States).

But here is the thing about upheaval – it doesn’t touch everything. We traveled to Burkina Faso for a wedding that was joyous and free of violence. We met people who were expecting babies, building houses, and starting small businesses—all normal life things. In times of uncertainly, even war, life goes on.

12 Article Marlisa
Marlisa and her family at a wedding reception in Burkina Faso.
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I returned to the relative stability of the United States via a stop in the equally wobbly UK. The magazine headlines at the airport newsstands were overwhelmingly offering predictions and advice for navigating 2020 and much of it was dark and dire.

With the red dust of Ouagadougou still on my shoes, I was keen to put “the sky is falling” tone into perspective for everyone, particularly business leaders. Leaders often want to stop and do nothing or wait until they know exactly what to do. This makes sense since stakes are high. But what I realized in Burkina Faso is that often there is nothing to wait FOR.

There won’t be one single day when the jihadist cells there call it quits and kids can start getting to school unimpeded. Nor will the actual day of the UK’s exit be the actual day that Brits stop acting like EU citizen. Both will be a subtle and organic re-norming, not unlike other ebbs and flows in our lives.

"There is no game-theory exercise or scenario planning model that will produce a definitive recommendation."

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