Why You Shouldn’t Wait and Watch in Uncertain Times

Tackling Uncertainty

How often have you felt frustrated about weather uncertainty this last summer?

You diligently check the forecast and confirm it’s expected to be fine, but then it rains buckets, spoiling your plans. Or you cancel your plans because of a predicted severe storm that never eventuates.

We accept that we cannot control the weather. However, there are many other systems that interact, impact on and influence our lives.

For example, the Reserve Bank raises interest rates, which reduces consumer spending. Natural disasters push up the prices of fresh produce and insurance premiums, and governments must be careful that attempts to reduce cost-of-living pressures don’t have adverse consequences. Meanwhile, corporations are re-adjusting their sails post-pandemic to trim what’s no longer needed or trying to recoup losses.

Just like the Bureau of Meteorology tries to predict the weather, consumers, businesses, and governments cannot say with any certainty what will happen with the economy.

Predicting how our roles and work will be impacted is also difficult. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.

In his book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman says, ‘Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities—for success, for happiness, for really living—are waiting’.

He suggests we learn from Stoicism, an ancient philosophy, and live according to the principles associated with the Dichotomy of Control. A Stoic would tell us to focus on what is within our control and let go of attachment to what is beyond our influence.

However, Stoic wisdom also reminds us that uncertainty holds inherent opportunities for growth and learning. By accepting the operating environment’s inherent unpredictability, you become more open to exploring new avenues, innovating, and embracing calculated risks.

Tackling Uncertainty

Because macro changes such as technology disruption, regulatory change, market dynamics, and global events are outside your control, you may adopt a wait-and-see approach.

That’s a mistake because familiarity with volatile contexts and habitually adopting a passive stance could see you lose strategic advantages and inadvertently increase your team’s stress level.

When I debrief people on their Indicator of Ambiguity profile, I consistently see them underestimate the impact their ease with ambiguity is having on their teams, especially if they also have a strong sense of how they want to be perceived by others.

The reality is humans are wired so that, for most of us, ambiguity and uncertainty are stress-inducing.

We are also wired to make sense of what we see and experience based on what we already know.

Your team could be seeing the situation in vastly different ways. Some will see the potential strategic advantages and others will see the beginning of the end of the world.

If you want to amplify the people who see potential strategic advantages:

  • Avoid the desire for others to perceive you’re on top of everything
  • Learn from but don’t be constrained by the past and
  • Invite your team to embrace the unknown and collectively engage with new ideas, different perspectives, and different people whilst exploring complex challenges one step at a time.
jigsaw puzzle

Tackling uncertainty alone is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. Involving others turns on the lights, allowing different pieces to come together more clearly and quickly through shared insights and experiences.

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