The Good. The Bad. The Uncertain.
Updated: Apr 5
In business, when a situation is either good or bad, at least we know where we stand. But with uncertainty, what’s behind door number one seems just as compelling as what’s behind door numbers two and three. Uncertainty is anxiety and perspiration producing. It’s why we plan. Some of us have even turned planning into a full-time occupation. Guilty.
With a legal, event planning, program coordinating, and marketing communications professional background, I can’t help myself; planning is who I am and what I do. One colleague at a nonprofit institution once said of me, “She taught me to plan for the best and worst-case scenarios. Have a plan ‘A,’ a plan ‘B’––maybe even a ‘C.’ I often thought it was exhausting and unnecessary; until, of course, I found myself scrambling because plans ‘A’ and ‘B’ had to be scrapped.”
Even I, however, know that we can’t plan for every what-if situation or scenario, and I would wager to guess that even the most well thought out crisis plans have fallen short in the face of COVID-19, a global pandemic that has dramatically impacted our business-as-usual lives.
Today, every small business, nonprofit institution, and corporate enterprise is wondering what life will look like on the flip side. We won’t know, unfortunately, until we get there, but there’s still good news in the midst of the bad news––we still have some control, we still have choices. We can either frantically fling open door number one and allow our fear and fight-or-flight responses to take over, or we can thoughtfully move beyond door number two, choosing to take a more reflective and rational approach that recognizes this period as a teachable moment; one that will help us grow into becoming better people, organizations, and employers.
Build Endurance: Process Over Results
You’ve heard success is a journey, right? Well, in business, we often lose sight of this, working feverishly over our keyboards to meet the next impending deadline. We are so focused on our deliverables that we forget to examine the processes that help get us there, which, incidentally, also provide meaning to the jobs we do. However, by focusing on our processes, we can actually strengthen our stamina for facing future uncertainties. Put another way, if we have confidence in the processes that built our past studied successes––those steps and procedures that are tested, tried and true, and have provided consistently good outcomes––we’ll be far less likely to waiver and waffle during uncertain times.
Therefore, it is an opportune time to focus inward and evaluate the processes your organization has in place. Ask your organization’s internal and external audiences, “Is there anything our organization could do to improve upon what and/or how we [fill in the blank]?” Maybe it’s better communications, fewer internal meetings, more educational opportunities, or longer lead times for research and development. Compare internal team or department processes, too. Is one team or department experiencing better success? If so, why? Is it worth making it a standard practice? Read up on what your current competitors are currently doing. Do you measure your business objectives? If not, do so!
A result is impossible without a process. To guarantee satisfying results, put studied processes in place. Audit and assess, establishing best practices and benchmarks.
Uncertainty, Invention’s Kissing Cousin
If “Necessity is the mother of invention,” I believe uncertainty is her sister and the mother of creativity. It’s hard not to see the family resemblance; necessity and uncertainty create the chance to meet a need in an original, advanced way.
Creativity never results from doing the same thing over and over again, in the same manner. While that approach may have been new and exciting yesterday, it’s the status quo of today. However, uncertainty challenges us to find workarounds to the ways we normally conducted business, giving us permission to take creative license and try new methods and means.
Consider, for instance, Chester Carlson, a laid-off Bell Libraries’ employee who worked at a New York electronics firm while attending law school. At his job, Carlson became increasingly frustrated with having to copy patent drawings over and over again. Consequently, he started conducting experiments using electrostatic attraction to adhere powder to plain paper. In the fall of 1938, his experiment succeeded and later led to the first photocopier; it would radically change how information was distributed. And while the photocopier is less in demand today, its core technology exists in our current scanners and printers.
Be open to finding new ways of doing things, including inviting others to the discussion who aren’t as involved in the process or decision at hand (e.g., another department or an external audience). These professionals and individuals will bring a unique and fresh perspective to the situation, which may spark exciting ideas and solutions.
Grow Great Leaders
Granted, COVID-19 may be a version of uncertainty on steroids, but some form or degree of uncertainty will always exist in the business world. We’ll never become immune to it, but we can become more resilient and better at dealing with it, which is critical for long-term success. Uncertainty, therefore, can provide fertile ground for growing great leaders, which means it’s imperative that your organization is presently demonstrating the traits of stellar leadership, serving as a role model for future managers, supervisors, directors, and officers.
At this time, leadership, for instance, should be holding weekly staff meetings, allowing internal audiences to feel connected and informed about the current and future state of the business. Meetings should be organized and have an agenda that includes the opportunity for Q&A. For questions that arise during off-meeting times, alternative methods for securing answers must exist (e.g., one-on-one meetings and/or email communication). Great leaders stay engaged and are excellent listeners. And regardless of whether the audience is internal or external, communication must always be transparent and honest; it’s better to admit not knowing something than flubbing an answer, which, if incorrect, will jeopardize credibility and trust.
School of Hard Knocks
Currently, we are all attending the School of Hard Knocks. And like all learning, it’s new, and it can be uncomfortable and challenging. However, if we can practice the characteristics of being great leaders (and people) and embrace uncertainty with curiosity and interest, I believe we’ll end up graduating with honors. Moreover, and this really excites me, we can incorporate this experience into the content of our future plans, proudly noting, “been there, done that.”
If you would like some “study aids,” check out the below books or apps on creativity and mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, promote calmness and increase focus; it can be beneficial, especially during times of uncertainty, when our minds tend to race with many unconstructive, unproductive thoughts.
· “Thinking Fast and Slow” – Daniel Kahneman
· “Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance” – Jonathan Fields
· “How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World”– Steven Johnson
· “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” – Austin Kleon
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story" – Dan Harris
Headspace: Meditation & Sleep (App)
Stop, Breathe & Think: Meditation tuned to your feels (App)
Calm: Mediation and Sleep Stories (App)
We'll get through this, and I look forward to seeing you at Commencement!
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