Map It Out: Three Ways to Prepare for Uncertainty

by | Monday, September 30th, 2013

Looking back on Self-Improvement Month, I’ve always been mesmerized by why people and businesses are reactive instead of proactive. Of course, we can’t anticipate everything. But still, isn’t it interesting that many of us only change direction after a crisis? My question is: why wait?

This is the fundamental challenge of humans and businesses. And I believe it has to do with curiosity.

The need for certainty is a strong psychological straitjacket that most can’t get out of, but the reality is that circumstances change. There is a direct correlation between what you know and the value you deliver. And if you are not competent at what you do, there is no value delivered. But when situations change, your competence, and therefore the value you provide, may become irrelevant.

It is in these situations when change happens and we are required to react. Most can’t detect that change, even when it is already here.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to keep our team, partners, clients, friends on a learning binge. This is directly associated with the pace of change and the need to learn as fast as the world is changing. Although constant learning is not a challenge for some of us, as leaders (any kind), it is our responsibility to keep learning. Just as we see change as an opportunity, we might see changes coming our way, and may take action before threats are at shore, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the team is on the same page. Unless everyone else is learning, it will be very difficult to orient and change course.

What can you do to prepare for uncertainty? Map it out.

Here is what I mean:

  • What you know. These are your core competencies that, hopefully, include an understanding of your customers’ current needs.
  • What you know that you don’t know. These are the things that you should be working to optimize. For example, if you are enhancing your current offering or if you are thinking of developing a new product or service.
  • What you don’t know that you don’t know. Here sits all the things you cannot imagine.

The reasons why people and businesses always react to changing times is because they stay in “what they know”. The way you change and adapt to the times is by experimenting with what you don’t know, while at the same time exploiting what you do know. But this approach is not without challenges. First, you have to accept that your core competencies will become irrelevant at some point. That is why you experiment. Second, you must make the effort to seek out new insights.

This is the innovation dilemma: exploitation versus discovery.

I am by no means saying that if you follow the formula that all will be resolved. It doesn’t work that way. But if you exploit what you know while at the same time seek out new insights, you’ll at least be prepared to deal with uncertainty.


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