In quantum mechanics, there’s a thing called the Uncertainty Principle. In short, “it tells us that there is a fuzziness in nature, a fundamental limit to what we can know”. Worse, we can’t really predict or measure what happens. Alok Jha tells us: the best we can do is “to calculate probabilities for where things are and how they will behave.”
Full disclosure: I’m not a physicist. And my understanding of Heisenberg’s theory is rudimentary at best. Yet these days, the Uncertainty Principle seems to describe the situation rather nicely. And when we talk to clients, it’s clear that uncertainty – the state of being unknown or not definite, with so much open to question (including the facts) – has reached a whole new level. Some translate uncertainty into perpetual action; others can become paralyzed by it. In business, uncertainty can wreak havoc on productivity, morale, and decisions. If you can’t measure or predict it, then how the heck can you plan, set priorities, or follow through? We believe you can.
Move forward by managing your reactions to the uncertainty.
In our experience, certainty is actually more rare than ambiguity in developing and executing strategy. And it is no accident that Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger identified “comfort with ambiguity” as a critical behavioral competency for leaders. In the best strategies, uncertainty is embedded in the stretch between where you are today and a truly aspirational vision (your destination). Those who succeed in reaching the destination have learned how to actively manage the uncertainty.
Five steps to manage uncertainty:
List the key drivers of change in your business. Consider the most important factors in your industry that either move you forward or really get in the way. Those are the drivers of change. Typical drivers may include specific government regulations, technology shifts, different, merged, or new competitors, etc. Of these, which 3-5 things are likely to have the biggest impact and the most variability? Those are the things you really need to watch.
Create a sign post for each key driver based on the nature of the change that could create a new opportunity or derail you. For what, specifically are you on the lookout? How will you know whether change is coming? That’s what goes on the sign posts.
Read the tea leaves, regularly. At the least, schedule regular intervals during which you’ll review what’s happening. At the best, make it someone’s job to stay on top of each sign post and have a clear mechanism for raising the flag that your world has shifted and a protocol for dealing with it.
Know what you control – and what you don’t. If you control it, address it directly. If you don’t, consider how you’ll react or respond to the change or circumstance. How will you mitigate?
Be ready to regroup. Agility is key. When stuff happens, you’ve got to have enough room to maneuver and skill to handle it. Decide up front the process you’ll use to regroup, what decisions you’ll need to make quickly, and who should be involved in which aspects. Scenario thinking can help to consider a range of possibilities, even before they occur.
For the layman, the Uncertainty Principle can be quite daunting. There will always be uncertainty. However, with a bit of forethought and planning, we can create a loose structure or framework that allows us to manage that uncertainty – or really, our reactions to it – in a way that prevents the ambiguity from derailing progress. We solve it with strategy.