The economic horizon is a mixed display of ambiguity highlighted by seemingly recognizable and trustworthy predictors. On the one hand, we see a steady increase in employment, while on the other hand the stock markets are rice-paper sensitive to just about any news, foreign or domestic.

What we tend to forget is that the economy acts just as we as people do. That is to say, the economy is a mirror of human thinking, speaking, and behavior. People drive economics, not unidentified, amorphous markets. Markets are simply rallying places for the greater marketplace which is where people gather and converse and conduct the business of living. In reality, our economy is human-centric and human-bounded.

This being the case, it behooves every serious economist and economically interested party to take a pulse of how people are feeling, where they are shopping, what they are consuming, what they dream about and aspire to, and what concerns them possibly keeping them awake at night—in other words, what people think, they speak about. And what people speak about they end up doing. Observing what people are thinking comes through in the articles they write, the blogs they post, the quips they publish through social media, and on and on it goes. Communication clarity is critical to this understanding as it is fraught with seemingly myriad distortions ranging from innocent reporting errors to intentional misinformation campaigns.

Sometimes, if not usually, people are told what and how to think. This occurs when they mindlessly take in unfiltered information without applying either critical thinking skills or plain old common sense. Without these, people are sitting ducks to be influenced in their thinking, speaking and behavior. Perhaps nothing is more powerful than the power of intelligent marketing as it presents ideas as facts, wraps them in appealing sensory packages, and touches on one or more of the basic human ambitions of security, pleasure or power.

As business owners, all keenly interested in the economy both here in the United States and abroad, it’s equally important that we apply critical thinking skills and common sense to the myriad channels of economic and financial data we’re confronted with every day. We must avoid the self-deception of only consuming the news that appeals to our self-soothing sensory receptors and be open to the broader spectrum of possibilities. We must not allow ourselves to be told what and how to think, but rather we need to assume accountability for being responsible leaders and managers; our employees, suppliers and clients depend on us accordingly.

Here is a basic sampling of geopolitical sources and economic indicators every business leader should be aware of and bring into the context of business and operational decisioning:

• U.S. Labor Department’s monthly “Employment Situation” details report
• U.S. Department of Commerce’s monthly “Personal Income & Outlays” report
• U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly “New Residential Construction” report
• U.S. Department of Commerce’s monthly “Construction Spending” report
• U.S. Department of Commerce’s monthly “Manufacturer’s Shipments, Inventories, & Orders” report
• U.S. Department of Commerce’s monthly “New Residential Sales” report
• The Institute for Supply Management’s monthly “Manufacturing” report
• BIS “Working Papers”
• Rand Corporation’s Center for Global Risk and Security Research Section
• U.S. State Department’s Major Publications & Policy Issues Sections

Here are some other important resources:
• The Fed’s “Beige” Book is published eight times annually and is available to the public on www.federalreserve.gov
• Rand Corporation’s comprehensive reporting and analysis is published daily and is perhaps the best source for global 360° spherical awareness. www.rand.org
• Vital Statistics on the Presidency, by Lyn Ragsdale, highlights an inventory of the magnitude of change when a new U.S. President is elected. A worthy read to understand as a context to global head of state shifts.
• The American Economic Association is a good primer on how economics works and communicates its wisdom in straightforward language every business leader will value. www.aeaweb.org
• Vantage by DesignIntelligence

This is but the tip of the iceberg on what’s being measured, reported on and projected against. In association with The Tricord Group, DesignIntelligence tracks more than 130 geopolitical sources and economic indicators to better understand what’s happening and how the myriad changes will impact the A/E/C industry short- to mid-term.

On a worldwide scale, the ever-shifting landscape of changing leaders results in consistent unsettledness across global economies. With each change comes the possible shifts in policy and practice around any given country’s economy, sending ripples far and wide across global trade, supply chains, cash flow access, funding (debt and equity), currency valuations and more.

Each such shift and the resultant ripples have a direct impact, small or large, on A/E/C, the world’s largest industry segment. Being a citizen of the world is no longer an option for business owners, it’s a mandate. In order to predict and prepare for possible eventualities, “building a better business” means being aware.

It can all seem overwhelming, but when the facts and figures pass and the ticker tape drops and the research reports are laid aside, it always comes back to people. People drive economies. People dream, aspire, work hard and invest. We noted earlier that serious leaders and thinkers ought always to take a pulse of how people are feeling, where they’re shopping, what they’re consuming, what they dream about and aspire to and what concerns them.

Starting there sets an anchor in place to hold to when tempted to be swept away by the waves of data.

Dave Gilmore is the president and CEO of DesignIntelligence and a scholar member of the American Institute of Economic Research. 
Photos by Ryoji Iwata and Serkan Turk on Unsplash.