Complex projects can be paradoxical. To get project funding you need a clear plan to achieve specific outcomes because funders want certainty. However, when you finally get funding the reality sets in because it’s rare to find a complex project without uncertainty.
You can try and avoid all the risks, or you can embrace the uncertainty as a strategic advantage just like Jack Colter does in the movie ‘Romancing the Stone’.
For those not familiar with the movie, Joan Wilder is a romance novelist who at the beginning of the film, is catapulted into an unexpected and dangerous expedition to rescue her sister. She finds herself embarking on a quest filled with unknowns, unexpected twists, and daunting challenges.
As Joan navigates through the perilous terrain, she encounters a rugged and daring adventurer named Jack Colton. Jack embodies the mindset of embracing uncertainty. Rather than shying away from the risks and unknowns, he thrives in the face of adversity, leveraging it to his advantage. He adapts to the ever-changing circumstances, making split-second decisions and seizing opportunities that propel them forward.
Jack knows that avoiding all risks is unrealistic as unexpected challenges can arise at any moment.
Project leaders can be more like Jack by capitalising on opportunities others may overlook by harnessing the power of uncertainty as a catalyst for growth, innovation, and unlocking untapped potential.
Research outcomes have shown a significant relationship between high levels of openness to uncertainty and strategic problem-solving, leadership self-efficacy, decision-making effectiveness and creativity.
Leaders who embrace uncertainty avoid clinging to recurring or familiar problems where they can apply past learnings. Leaders who don’t embrace uncertainty miss out on potential opportunities if they’re too focused on staying on the safest path.
As Oliver Burkeman says in his book The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking “Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities — for success, for happiness, for really living — are waiting.”
Imagine you could ask Joan Wilder what she thinks at the end of Romancing the Stone – I’m sure she’d say the rewards were greater when she stopped clinging to certainty.
Embracing uncertainty is like gracefully dancing on shifting sands. It requires agility, balance, and the ability to adjust how you move in response to the ever-changing landscape, being proactive about being inclusive and open-minded as you take one step at a time to work your way through complex problems.
However, many leaders are missing out on the full benefits of embracing uncertainty because although they recognise the advantages, they’re not consistently embracing uncertainty and tend to go it alone until they have more information.
Then there are the leaders who miss most opportunities because they tend to underestimate the odds of success, overly focus on minimising risks and shy away from embracing different perspectives and new ideas because that increases the level of uncertainty.
In The Antidote, Oliver Burkeman talks about the value of stoicism, an ancient philosophy that teaches individuals to cultivate inner resilience, wisdom, and virtue to achieve a state of tranquillity and live a fulfilling life, irrespective of external circumstances.
The stoic principle of Dichotomy of Control teaches us to focus our attention on what is within our control and let go of attachment to what is beyond our influence.
Stoic wisdom reminds us that uncertainty holds inherent opportunities for growth and learning. By accepting the unpredictability of the operating environment, you become more open to exploring new avenues, innovating, and embracing calculated risks.
Rather than being overwhelmed by external forces, a Stoic will focus on optimising their internal resources, aligning them with their core values and strategic vision.
So, how could you be more like Jack Colton and consistently look for opportunity in the uncertainty?