Leading Ideas: Embrace Uncertainty

A few weeks ago, a client, the President of a financial services firm, shared that he was struggling with the feeling of paralysis at his company. "It's as if, in this tough economic environment, the team's got a built-in excuse for poor results," he said, "So they throw their creative thinking out the window - just when we need it most. I understand it's tough, but we've got to change the energy around here." Last week, we held a half-day meeting to begin to re-engage the executive team's creative thinking. The session revolved around 3 questions - (1) If we assume the economic environment stays bad for 2 more years, who will fare the best in our industry? Why? (2) What are the implications for our firm? (3) What should we do next? "The questions weren't rocket science," my client noted, "but it's the conversation we needed to get our thinking started. When you're trapped in a mindset of fear you miss the opportunities around you."

Consider This:

Uncertainty is uncomfortable - sometimes painfully so. When you can't see the road ahead it's stressful for a lot of reasons. However, uncertainty also has an upside. It's the fertile ground that's needed to foster creativity, growth, and ultimately progress. Simply put, not being able to see the road ahead means you've got an opportunity to CREATE it. Uncertainty gives you a choice - to be paralyzed by fear or to be inspired to action. The more often you're able to choose the latter in the face of doubt - to do something to get out of the gates - to do something to build momentum, the better positioned you'll be for long term success.

Try This:

  1. If you're feeling a level of paralysis with your team or organization, hold a similar session to the one above.
  2. Use the same questions or some variation - you want get people thinking about the unique opportunities that exist in the market RIGHT NOW for you.
  3. You may have to "clear the decks" first to let people vent frustration so it doesn't get in the way.
  4. Make these "mini planning sessions" a regular occurrence to shift energy and build momentum.

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next." -- Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 - ) American science fiction novelist

Doug Sundheim is an executive coach & consultant based in NYC - http://www.dougsundheim.com

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4 Comments

  • John Agno

    Being prepared for the unexpected is not easy. We have a natural tendency to look for instances that confirm our story and our vision of the world--these instances are always easy to find. You take past instances that corroborate your theories and you treat them as evidence.

    Unexpected events -- surprises, whether good or bad -- can make or break your business.

    Your ability to recognize and react to these events is key to both your growth -- and your survival. As an entrepreneur, you must have enough knowledge to plan and anticipate, yet enough street savvy to know when things are going unusually right or unusually wrong.

    We're talking here about really big surprises -- like discovering that one of your products is selling much better than expected -- and you don't know why ...or... discovering that you are selling to the wrong customers ...or... that your product or service needs to be revamped from top to bottom ...or... even discovering you are in the wrong business.

  • John Agno

    Being prepared for the unexpected is not easy. We have a natural tendency to look for instances that confirm our story and our vision of the world--these instances are always easy to find. You take past instances that corroborate your theories and you treat them as evidence.

    Unexpected events -- surprises, whether good or bad -- can make or break your business.

    Your ability to recognize and react to these events is key to both your growth -- and your survival. As an entrepreneur, you must have enough knowledge to plan and anticipate, yet enough street savvy to know when things are going unusually right or unusually wrong.

    We're talking here about really big surprises -- like discovering that one of your products is selling much better than expected -- and you don't know why ...or... discovering that you are selling to the wrong customers ...or... that your product or service needs to be revamped from top to bottom ...or... even discovering you are in the wrong business.

  • John Agno

    Being prepared for the unexpected is not easy. We have a natural tendency to look for instances that confirm our story and our vision of the world--these instances are always easy to find. You take past instances that corroborate your theories and you treat them as evidence.

    Unexpected events -- surprises, whether good or bad -- can make or break your business.

    Your ability to recognize and react to these events is key to both your growth -- and your survival. As an entrepreneur, you must have enough knowledge to plan and anticipate, yet enough street savvy to know when things are going unusually right or unusually wrong.

    We're talking here about really big surprises -- like discovering that one of your products is selling much better than expected -- and you don't know why ...or... discovering that you are selling to the wrong customers ...or... that your product or service needs to be revamped from top to bottom ...or... even discovering you are in the wrong business.