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James Bream: Uncertainty is scary but predictability is dull – let’s embrace exciting change

Some things in life are predictable - like the sad reality that Scotland probably won't win the Euros
Some things in life are predictable - like the sad reality that Scotland probably won't win the Euros

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” What a load of rubbish that quote is.

For one thing, it’s miserable, and secondly it’s patently a lie.

The first iteration of a new universal version of the phrase follows, although by the end of this column we may need to expand it further.

“The only things in life we can be certain of are being born once and dying once and, in between, experiencing thousands of unbelievable and amazing things. You can be sure of taxes, unless you are super wealthy. when you may find ways to avoid income tax in totality for a period.”

I think this is more accurate, reflects the nature of life and is marginally more uplifting, too.

James Bream

The turn of phrase about life and death was perhaps created to reflect the uncertainty of life and everything around it. However, it seems to me much more is certain than we think and, actually, many people spend lots of time trying to make life predictable.

I understand that predictability has a certain comfort. Over the last 15 years of my career I’ve been programmed to think that it’s a good thing. But deep down we love uncertainty, even though we say the opposite.

The surprising uncertainty of business

Businesses love certainty of financial returns and a stable operating environment but actually rarely get that, whether its due to oil price changes, Brexit, political change or, more recently, Covid.

I think the one thing we can be sure of is that the business environment is anything but predictable and we’d be as well to accept that. In fact, the most successful businesses are often created on the back of change rather than certainty.

We can be certain government are no better than us at predicting when Covid restrictions will lift

One thing that government has tried to make predictable for business is stable inflation. However, to control this the bank varies the supply of money or interest rates, so these things are far from certain.

While I am on the economy, for first time in a while we have the risk of inflationary pressures. Depending on how we exit the pandemic – or how well vaccines work, actually – I think we could see further inflationary pressures ahead.

A lack of labour supply in the UK, Brexit, and pent-up demand could prompt longer-term structural changes to the economy which could create inflation and cause interest rates to rise. Please don’t rely on me for mortgage advice, though.

Elections have become boringly predictable

Away from business, there is loads that is certain.

Elections are now certain and boring. We all knew Labour were going to be a massive flop and that the Conservatives would win in the UK version. We all also knew with a great deal of certainty that, no matter what the SNP did in government, at least 45% would vote for them again.

We can be certain government are no better than us at predicting when Covid restrictions will lift. We can be sure the Scottish Government will blame Westminster, and that Westminster will say Scottish budgets have increased.

Dominic Cummings MPs
Dominic Cummings’ revelations about his time in Downing Street were not hugely shocking

We can be certain that Dominic Cummings will have more revelations that we probably had an inkling of anyway. I think it was obvious, too, that there would have been times the prime minister had major doubts about his health secretary and would have said something vaguely unconsidered on the topic.

Finally, we can be certain that Scotland will write a remarkable story on how to lose a football match like no one ever has before. Losing to a goal from the halfway line was pretty unique – what can be next?

Some unknowns turn into great life experiences

I could go on for pages about the certainty and predictability of life and the economy, but it’s not what we want, I am sure of it. After all, being told: “You are so predictable” is definitely not a compliment.

So at the next election, please think about voting for someone different to make things exciting. In the meantime, we can be excited about change and focus on the thousands of amazing (good and challenging) things we experience between life and death which are, as yet, unknown and uncertain.

Can Steve Clarke’s side beat Croatia?

And let’s hope that Scotland can show us nothing is certain and hammer Croatia at football, although I’m certain they’d exit on goal difference.

Finally, to show how wrong I am about predictability, I can say that it is absolutely certain Aberdeen FC will not win a trophy next year, and I’m certain I won’t win the lottery this weekend.


James Bream was research and policy director at Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and is now general manager of Aberdeen-based Katoni Engineering

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