Ah yes, there it is again, that all-too-common expression: cautiously optimistic.
In recent years, diplomats and businesspeople all over the world have relied on those two words to express doubts and reservations while trying to avoid – gasp at the horrible thought – ‘sounding too negative.’
I know I’m not alone in my uneasy relationship with this phrase, which can sometimes ring hollow. That’s because what it often means is some version of the following: The outlook isn’t great and we’re very worried – though it’s uncomfortable to say that. So we’ll spin our feelings into a positive sentiment instead.
That being said, it is certainly a concise way of expressing reservation, and is therefore useful in situations where there isn’t enough time (or room, if one is writing), to explain in great detail why caution is warranted. Plus, no one likes a Debbie Downer…
First, let’s look at a few headlines that illustrate why we’re feeling cautious.
It goes without saying that Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine – and its apparent attempt to play the long game and ‘win’ via a war of attrition – is weighing on global sentiment. On top of that horror, we end the year with a second conflict on our hands – the Hamas-Israel war – which is a powder keg that could explode into a much wider conflict.
Against this backdrop, the economic news isn’t great, though the US economy is showing signs of resilience. Fitch Ratings forecasts global economic growth will dip to roughly 2% in 2024 - from about 3% this year. China, in particular, will struggle to manage a prolonged property slump, weak consumer spending, and a decline in foreign investment due to concerns over its policymaking and regulatory frameworks.
The IMF is slightly more optimistic: It predicts economic growth to slow to 2.9% in 2024 – but that’s a downgrade of 0.1 percentage points from the group’s last projection in July. The figure “remains well below the historical average” and marks the lowest growth forecast in decades, according to Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the IMF’s chief economist.
In early December, Moody’s Investors Service cut its outlook for China’s sovereign bonds to negative from stable on rising debt, and also downgraded Hong Kong’s credit outlook from stable to negative, due to the former colony’s closer integration with the mainland, both politically and economically.
And then there’s this happy headline
from Bloomberg on December 1: Fears of World War III Prey on Hedge Fund Titans and Policymakers Alike.
Control what you can
Well, that’s six straight paragraphs of gloom – enough for one blog, I reckon.
Just what is the source of our optimism heading into 2024? First, we delivered a wide range of exciting projects in 2023 – everything from value propositions for global sales teams, to agenda-setting research for marketers at some of the world’s largest banks. This momentum hasn’t slowed, which indicates that many of our clients are doubling down on development plans, even as they face a level of uncertainty we haven’t seen for decades.
Second, we spent most of 2023 delivering on our internal plans (i.e., those initiatives within our control), while broader macro forces (i.e., those things beyond our control) – played out around us.
In November, we formally opened our London office. While we’ve long had a representative office in New York, our London office is fully staffed – and will provide the full suite of New Narrative services, from messaging development to data-driven analysis of media trends to custom research, across the UK, Europe, and the Middle East (EMEA).
Speaking of data, we also launched our iN/Ntelligence service, which provides data-driven editorial recommendations. iN/Ntelligence searches through a licensed AI-powered database of over 70,000 news and media sources to identify evolving narrative trends. We compile and analyse these findings to deliver actionable insights to our clients.
We made these investments because it’s been our experience that thought leadership is even more important in times of crisis. Our clients in financial services, professional services, and enterprise technology need to address difficult issues – whether that’s managing the impact of inflation, embracing AI, or addressing China’s prolonged slowdown – and convince their key stakeholders they will weather the storm. We are here – as we have been for the past 10 years – to help them do just that.
And if that’s not enough to give N/N some degree of cautious optimism, I’ll sign off with this happy nugget: Baba Vanga, the blind seer of Bulgaria, predicted many years ago before she passed that the world as we know it won’t end until 5079. Seems we’ll be around for a while after all.
Season’s greetings from all of us at N/N and see you in 2024.
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