Over the last few years two disciplines have gone from underdog to front row mainstream. Yes, you guessed it: forecasting and MMA. But what have those two unrelated disciplines in common and how can you possibly compare one with the other?
MMA: Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that allows striking and grappling, both standing and, on the ground, using techniques from various combat sports and martial arts.
Forecasting: A planning tool that helps management in its attempts to cope with the uncertainty of the future, relying mainly on data from the past and present and analysis of trends.
At first sight both have really nothing in common however after close examination we find four areas that are crucial in both: strategy, preparation, agility and team. Both disciplines cannot work without any of the four or you could argue that if one of the four is missing then your chances of success reduce.
Now, we know the old myth that the most important statistic in forecasting is accuracy. I would disagree: For me, the most crucial part is being agile. Who cares about being within 5% accuracy when you had the chance to make 30% more revenue? Let’s dig a bit deeper:
Strategy and planning
Regardless of the horizon, the one thing that every forecast and MMA bout needs is strategy. The careful planning of how I am going to beat my opponent, my comp set, my budget, or even last year. We spend time looking at different data sets and take in information from the past, from the present and predict an outcome based on the strategy we apply. It is defining our overall end goal.
In MMA that could be going for a knock-out, going for a submission or going for counter-strike tactics or even going the full distance wearing the opponent out. We look at what key skills (various martial arts) we have and what key skills the opponent has; where are the weaknesses and how can we come out on top. This can include things like reach, weight, height or even speed — all indicators that need to be benchmarked and analyzed for a favourable outcome. Yes correct, analyzed. You don’t want to go into the fight with a gut feel of what might happen.
In forecasting, it is not that dissimilar. We start by looking at our strength (product, location, segments) and determine how we can use those to optimize revenues / outpace the competition or even beat last years numbers. Based on what we know about the competition and last year / budget, we know what we need to do in order to succeed. A common outcome of strategies is individual tactics that are being used for the desired outcome — punches, kicks, take downs, submission, etc. Once the strategy has been set and all variables benchmarked, we start going into the prep phase. The big day is set — let’s roll.
Training and preparation
The preparation stage is a crucial stage and can heavily weight the outcome in your favour.
In MMA it means training, training, training. Making sure that the skills are fine-tuned, the body pushed to its maximum capabilities (and then some), possibly new skills added, tactics trained and above all: it requires discipline. But that’s not all: you need to take in much more other factors: sleep, hydration, diet, equipment you use for training, duration of it, sparring….the list goes on and on. It is a time where you take yourself from A to B by optimizing every part of the strategy and fine-tuning the engine (your body) to its optimum.
In forecasting we use data. Well, that’s not all. We use much more than that. For preparation we need to speak about our tool box that helps us complete the forecast: Human, systems and technology solutions along with reporting that have been studied and analyzed.
Booking trends and pricing metrics by segment, channel, and DBA that have been set to memory. Years of experience that have developed intuition to give it that extra kick at the end. We are looking at everything and anything that can help us optimize our business and take it from A (where it is right now) to B (optimized forecast).
When the big night comes – agility is the name of the game!
By far the most important stage. The gold standard of “forecasting accuracy” is long gone. The new name of the game is being agile, making decisions based on pivoting or perseverance.
In MMA it is straightforward (assuming you had max preparation): If your strategy is not working, you change it on the spot otherwise you are out. If your strategy was to stand up (and keep standing up) for the fight so you can keep your distance and use your length advantage, but your opponent takes you down every time you get up, you must ask yourself: is it working? Should I change my strategy and tactics, or do I believe so much in my own doing that it becomes irrelevant of what the other person does. It is a constant battle between pivoting and perseverance. In most cases you adapt your strategy when your strategy is wrong, or your tactics are not working — all so you get the favorable outcome.
In forecasting we follow similar battles — do we hold rate, drop rate? Run a promo? That deal of the day that seems to help me bridge the gap? The comp set dropping their rates when they shouldn’t, market forces. We constantly must adjust our thinking, our tactics, our approach and answer the simple question: Pivot (change our strategy and tactics) or persevere (keep at it regardless of the cost)? Not: should I do 5% accuracy, or shouldn’t I?
Don’t get me wrong — in the ideal world your forecasting will be in the correct zone, however when required I personally take additional profits home instead of congratulating on an vanity measure well hit.
In order to optimize you need to be able to understand and use all info and heads available. It is not a one person show, even though it seems like it when it comes to the actual execution at time.
In MMA, while being alone in the bout, the team has been there and is still there all the way. Screaming from the sidelines, offering suggestions, pushing you forward. During preparation and strategy, they helped put a plan together, execute against it and offer insights from different angles (different techniques, different training, strategies, diet, etc.). The team is equally, if not more important in winning the fight than the individual.
In forecasting we follow the same rules. If we are in the game of low demand, we need marketing, partners and others to help us bridge the gap between what we planned and what we achieve. We might forecast a certain segment to behave a certain way yet when it doesn’t, we bring in other departments to help us see through it and act / react / pro-act to the signs that are given. It is not a one person show, it is won by the team — we all win when hitting budget, we all lose when not.
Like MMA, forecasting is an art form that morphs in real-time. There are triggers and clues to help guide you. Regardless of how well you prepare or how strong your team is: if you do not recognize change immediately you will lose. Business must be agile and aligned to change strategies on a dime, to act before forced to react, to “Netflix” it instead of waiting for the next program to start.
The good news: it is all possible already today. So why wait? Get your gloves and get out there. And before we forget:
To pivot doesn’t mean to lose or give up, it means to act with the ability to change it in the moment.