Embrace Uncertainty

Hot Air Balloon Fest Uniontown, NJThere’s a lot of stress in the working world these days, and to me, it all comes down to our blatant disrespect of uncertainty.

In today’s reality, we ask for plans then demand strict adherence to the deliverables – on time, on budget, or else. We treat plans like they’re chiseled in granite, when really it should be more like dry erase markers and a whiteboard. Our markets are uncertain; customers’ behaviors are uncertain; competitors’ actions are uncertain; supply chains are uncertain, yet our plans are plans don’t reflect that reality. And when we expect absolute predictability and accountability, we create stress and anxiety and our people don’t want to try new things because that adds another level of uncertainty.

With a flexible, rubbery plan the first step informs the second, and this is the basis for the logical shift from robust plans to resilient ones. Plans should be less about forcing adherence and more about recognizing deviation. Today’s plans demand early recognition of something that did follow the plan and today’s teams must have the authority to respond quickly. However, after years of denying the powerful force of uncertainty and shooting the messenger, we’ve trained our people to hide the deviations. And, with our culture of control and accountability, our teams require our approval before any type of change, so their response time is, well, not timely.

At our core, we know uncertainty is a founding principle in our universe, and now it’s time to behave that way. It’s time to look inside and decide to embrace uncertainty. Accept it or not, acknowledge it or not, uncertainty is here to stay. Here are some words to guide your journey:

  • Resilient not robust.
  • Early detection, fast response.
  • Many small plans, done in parallel.
  • Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
  • Plans are meant to be re-planned.

And if you’re into innovation, this applies doubly.


Image credit – dfbphotos.

One Response to “Embrace Uncertainty”

  • David Hawthorne:

    It is highly unlikely that we will ever know or experience everything. On the other hand, the ‘multiverse’ cosmology asserts that a multiverse (or meta-verse) contains an infinite number of universes. So, in this sense, the amount of “stuff” in the multiverse constitute all the possible stuff –we just won’t ever get to count it (i.e. Experience it). The multi-verse, “together” comprises “everything that exists.” http://bit.ly/1t7h98W.

    With some certainty, however, we can reasonably assume that we will never get to experience ‘everything’ in the multiverse. We are therefore obliged to speculate, to imagine, to guess. We seem superbly built for that exercise. The brains that grow in our soft proto noggins while in mommy’s tummy, are ideally suited to the processes we’ve come to call imagination, speculation, fear, and even “uncertainty,” which almost always makes us feel a little uncomfortable. We never get over that, and that is a blessing.

    We manage by uncertainty, not by certainty. When we seek to establish certainty, we turn off important parts of our brain -parts that are essential to discovery. Enterprise management continues to delude itself into believing it ‘knows’ what works, and how it works, and what its limitations and applications are. It is no surprise to me that there are but a few organizations, commercial or social, that are more than a few hundred years old. The vast majority of enterprises experience fall apartwithin the first 5-years of their existence. Very few, barely a handful, have lasted more than a couple of centuries.

    So which is more vital? The 300 year old banking house, or the bankrupt start-up that just shuttered its doors. Like entropy itself, you need to know more to understand value creation. http://bit.ly/1oWwits. The organization may fall apart, but when its experience (its knowledge) is re-ordered, its value may actually increase (and often does).

    What is now widely described as disruptive technologies, are actually living paradigm shifts during which we discover that the world is not like we assumed; not as we figured it. What was impossible, becomes possible, what was unknown, is experienced and it changes the architecture of our brains; what was unseen, is seen. The important thing to realize, is that whatever the change, the potential for that change was there the whole time, we simply failed to imagine it.

    So, yes! Build on your imaginings rather than on your certainties. You can operate on certainties, but growth will be limitted.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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