Regular readers may know that I’ve taken a close interest in the Russo-Ukraine War. So much so, in fact, that this week I attended a two-day conference on the war at The British Academy in London. Although there were only around 40 of us in the room, the list of international speakers and attendees included many distinguished professors and researchers, as well as a former Head of UK Joint Forces, a former Air Marshall and even a former NATO Secretary-General.

Among the many excellent sessions, one speaker, Professor Phillips O’Brien of St. Andrews University, spoke about the pre-invasion analysis by the West. He asked why so many analysts had so vastly over-estimated Russia’s military capability and so vastly underestimated Ukraine’s.

O’ Brien’s tentative conclusion was that while the data existed to show that Russia was far weaker than Ukraine in terms of logistics, training, morale and leadership, the conclusions of a ‘strong’ Russia were driven by outdated and incorrect assumptions and biases that the West held about modern Russia rather than the data itself.

It’s the same in business. In my book, First and Fast, I share how Nokia’s lost its dominance of the global smartphone market. In short, Nokia’s leaders believed that its market position was unassailable and so made incorrect assumptions about the nature and level of threat from both Apple and lower-cost Chinese manufacturers. The data was there; the correct perspective of Nokia executives was not. Similarly, US car manufacturers spent decades believing that the Japanese could not produce high-quality cars – despite the ever-increasing evidence to the contrary!

Before you review any data, you should first understand your own biases, assumptions and pre-conceptions. So, what are your ingrained beliefs about your company’s capabilities, your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, your customers’ needs and the underlying trends in your market? Only by honestly answering those questions will you be able to understand what’s really going on.

Off The Record: What’s Going On? by Marvin Gaye

Father, father

We don’t need to escalate

You see, war is not the answer

For only love can conquer hate

You know, we’ve got to find a way

To bring some loving here today