It’s uncomfortable to accept that the world around us is uncertain and can’t be controlled. However, it can be navigated. We didn’t try to control the oceans. Instead we built ships, created maps and learned about trade winds to navigate them. And we can do the same in business to navigate uncertainty.
Uncertainty comes from:
- Technological Change: Especially in communication technology, which spreads ideas further leading to the rise of more competition
- Customers and Competitors: About whom we rarely know in advance whether they’ll embrace our new products or launch new and better ones
- Internal Capabilities: The disconnect between the strategy of Executives and the ability to execute it in the rest of the organisation
- Black Elephants: Not so much black swans (low probability-high impact events) as “black elephants” — the elephant in the room that everyone was trying to ignore but then acts surprised when its impacts are suddenly felt (for example, a global pandemic, climate change, or war).
The wise Executive accepts that uncertainty, like an ocean storm, is inevitable. It can’t be controlled. But if the organisation is like a well-run ship, with the right crew and tools, it can be navigated successfully.
It requires a focus on awareness: discovering what customers need to guide your decisions about which technologies to invest in to help meet those needs.
It requires exploration: developing capabilities the organisation will need tomorrow, instead of just doing what your capabilities today allow you to.
It requires courage: rather than ignoring the elephant in the room ask yourself “what we can we do now to help us adapt tomorrow?”
Success in an uncertain world doesn’t come from trying to control the uncontrollable. It comes from seeing how the situation is unfolding and adapting. As ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky said: I’m successful because “I skate to where the puck is going to be; not where it has been”.
That’s the direction the wise Executive takes.