Let’s start with the obvious cliché. There are only two certainties in life, death and taxes. Both of which we try to avoid. If we are trying to avoid the only certainties, why do we have a problem with uncertainty, which comprises the rest of our existence? And how might certainty limit us?
We find innovation difficult. Yet innovation exists in the new, and therefore uncertain space.
Innovation will be difficult if we insist on trying to create certainty.
Why do we want certainty?
Uncertainty means risk means worry. We humans are hard-wired to avoid risk. So we try to control as much of our lives as we can. But this is mainly illusory. It is predicated on assumptions, some of which are valid, some of which are only valid for a short time, and some of which are not valid at all.
Where are we now?
The pandemic has exposed us to whole new ways of viewing our world. In business terms, we have a labour shortage, and a consequent rise in salary costs, and we have supply shortages as the global supply chain has slowed down. And who could have thought that half the world would grind to a halt when a ship got stuck in the Suez Canal? Our just-in-time models for keeping stock levels down need revisiting. And that has cost implications if we have to hold more stock. These are just two of the business-related issues we are suddenly having to confront. We all have plenty of personal ones as well.
We live in a VUCA world. That’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Out of those four elements, ‘uncertain’ is the only one that is a feeling. It’s helpful to recognise that it’s a feeling and not an actuality, because we tend to treat our feelings often as if they are real and because of that, limit our opportunities.
Is this an opportunity?
Our management models up until recently have been predicated on the need to focus, to move forward purposefully, and to control and manage in the fond hope that our customers will come. It’s an out-of-date last century standardised, production led, Fordist model which probably wasn’t working very well towards the end of the last century and certainly isn’t now. We’ve talked before about how uncertainty brings prosperity, and again in How SMES can compete with big business.
SMEs are very good at listening to customers, and generally good at listening to their people too. We know that we should treat customers as individuals and not annoy them, and treat our people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Perhaps this is a way of attracting and keeping the people you need and overcoming the current labour issue.
We can’t plan for certainty, and if we construct our plans with assumptions that we haven’t tested, and may not be valid in a few months’ time, then we will be frustrated. But we can, to some extent, plan for uncertainty by making fewer plans and building in flexibility.
After all, uncertainty is the normal situation. If we recognise this and embrace it, we can incorporate it into our lives.
That of itself produces more certainty. The knowledge that we have to be flexible, resilient, and agile to maintain our position in the world is valuable in itself. We build agile flexible and resilient businesses with our clients, and we take our own advice.
We all need to recognise that our need for certainty means that we create fewer opportunities for growth, both business and personally.
If we want growth, we must embrace the uncertain because that is where the new is. Essentially uncertainty is about newness.
It’s not always difficult or dangerous to do something new. We’ve talked twice about failing successfully and what it looks like and how to manage it which is starting small, keeping an eye on it, stopping if it doesn’t work, or doubling down if it does. We all have to do new things and recognising that this is our natural state goes a long way to removing the fear of the unknown. And allows us to grow our businesses much more easily.
We all need to find our true North and be a bit more pirate.
At Hixsons we make sure our clients are agile, flexible and resilient so that they are better able to respond to shocks. You can also read the helping in a crisis stories of how we helped 6 local businesses turn things around in the early days of the pandemic.
In the spirit of helping our business community we have resources in our learning centre where you will find various tools and templates for your business. We do not ask for your data, and it’s completely free.