Predicting the future is a seemingly futile exercise. This doesn't mean we should not try to stay ahead of the game. However, I have found throughout my career at PepsiCo that rapid adaption to changes as they occur is more beneficial in business than clairvoyance.
While we all have opinions about what may happen next, one thing is clear: we are operating in a web of global interconnectivity that affects everything we do.
As business people, it affects how we expand into a new market, what products we sell and who our consumers will be. The rules of engagement of our entire civilization are being reconfigured by a digitally-charged communications revolution. So, what can we do to operate more effectively in a time of profound, tumultuous, and continuous change—or as I call it, the "Era of Ambiguity?"
Following are the six guiding principles that have benefited me throughout my career:
1. Cultivate learning agility. I am an engineer who became a marketer who became a business leader. I have learned from each one of my assignments, and I have tried to learn at least one thing from every manger I had. To be an effective, life-long learner, I look at my career as a marathon. You must have the stamina, the technique, and the resiliency to stick with it, regardless of whether you are running uphill into a headwind.
2. Listen carefully. Too often we just talk to those who are close to us in our management hierarchies. We must make an effort to listen to everyone. Even our most ardent and intractable opponents will invariably teach us something important. When I was president of PepsiCo UK, some health interest groups ran some unpleasant commercials criticizing our products. It would have been easy to dismiss their concerns. Yet, by spending time with these committed activists and developing an insight into what they had to say, we were able to rethink our position in a number of beneficial ways.
3. Be comfortable with embracing significant and ongoing change. I knew we had to do more than just listen to what health activists had to say, we had to take action. Ultimately, we reduced the saturated fat content in Walker's crisps, and sponsored a Change4Life anti-obesity campaign.
Along the way, we won over some very opinionated activists. We showed the activists that we respected their opinions; we were willing to make changes, and we were willing to contribute to their efforts. This had a profound effect on our relationship with our health-oriented consumers in the UK.
4. Learn to deal with failure. To paraphrase Tennyson: it is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all. For if you aspire to great achievements and high rank, you must venture forth—and you will fail from time to time. But, do not make the mistake of equating business failure with personal failure. Failure in pursuit of a worthy goal must never be personal. If we allow it to become so, we will create a society of timid souls. Failure is simply a learning experience. Every great person's career has at least one significant failure, usually many, but those people were able to learn from it and move forward.
5. Have a strong philosophical foundation. Too often, companies look at mission statements as corporate window dressing, just something to put on a Web site and on the walls of offices. Your mission should be a powerful tool: a road map for future action. At PepsiCo, "Performance with Purpose" means delivering sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet. This is a lofty goal, but ultimately, it provides guidelines for discussion and debate within our company and a list of what to do—and what not to do. This is vital when navigating the oceans of ambiguity. While PepsiCo will inevitably move in a variety of directions, we know that you will not go too far off course if we adhere to our core principles.
6. Offer a far greater insight into what you and your organizations can offer. Customers and clients are looking for a different value proposition. The days of the impersonal manager, the impersonal company, and the impersonal product are over. It is no longer about just selling products or services. It is about creating and sustaining relationships where values and emotions are taken far more seriously.
We need to demonstrate to consumers that we understand the community in which they operate, that we understand what they care about, whether it is enacting broad-based policies to reduce PepsiCo's environmental footprint in the broader sense or partnering with local farmers and community groups to use our manufacturing facilities to improve water's sanitation and availability. If we can show that we are sensitive to these challenges, our brands will be in a much better place. Then, whether they invite us into their lives is entirely dependent upon how strongly they feel that we are relevant to them. They have to feel good about us.
This exercise of authenticity forces us to look within ourselves and become more aligned personally and institutionally with what we want to achieve. But if you make this commitment—and it is a very serious commitment—you and your business will be able to meet the needs and demands of the millions of consumers who are looking for products that they can believe in and trust. In an era of ambiguity, when there are fewer guarantees every day, this becomes increasingly valuable over time.
Salman Amin is the executive vice president of global marketing and chief marketing officer for PepsiCo.
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