Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

Our societal structure is set up to protect us. Overall, this is a very good thing. However, in dealing with uncertainty, there is not much this societal structure can do. Uncertainty will always be part of your reality.

Uncertainty can show up in your managing in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:

• There is a change of upper level personnel and you and your team have to justify your programs, without knowing if they will be accepted or rejected

• There are uncertainties inherent in work you are doing (for example, engineering designs that have not been tested in the field, but you are being pressured to get the product out in the market)

• The success of a program is dependent on its acceptance by clients or the public and you cannot predict, with 100% certainty, how it will be received

• You think one of your star performers is being recruited by a competitor or is actively looking for another position, but when you approach the subject, he or she is not forthcoming

So, as a person and as a manager, how do you get comfortable with uncertainty? A starting point is to accept that uncertainty is frequently present. By acknowledging the presence of uncertainty, you can deal with it. When you act as if it is not there and project certainty, uncertainty often shows up in dangerous ways. If uncertainty is present, bring it out in the open to both your team and your organization. Then, the truth is on the table and acknowledged. Develop your team’s skills for identifying assumptions (see previous blog post on developing assumptions ) . As you go forward, constantly revisit the uncertainties involved, to see if circumstances have changed, or if they may have lessened. Have your team be on the lookout for ways to decrease uncertainty in the project.

As you get comfortable with uncertainty, you may find that this enhances your performance by leaving open space, within which innovation can grow. By acknowledging uncertainty you will be acting from a stronger, not a weaker position. There is little gained in ignoring uncertainty and there is much to lose.

“Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.” – R.I Fitzhenry

photo: Vlado,