Uncertainty can also drive you mad and destroy your company.
Bill Welter (Adaptive Strategies), Kay Plantes (Plantes Company) and I have been discussing how the uncertainty caused by stronger, less predictable and more frequent disruptions can be as large a source of opportunity as it is a threat. We’ve been considering why such uncertainty tends to freeze some and free others. And we’ve been thinking about where companies and individuals can find solid traction for progress even when they feel trapped by uncertainty.
The three of us have worked with a wide range of organizations from the very large Fortune 500 to the very small entrepreneurial start-up and we tend to agree that standing still is about the only option NOT open to you today.
You are either planning your moves or circumstance will do the moving.
The Uncertainty Paradox
Uncertainty is a funny thing. At the same time it destabilizes your organization’s ability to generate profits it opens up opportunities for the future. (One can also argue that too little uncertainty leaves you open to severe risk from an ‘unlikely’ event, such as the financial firestorm in late 2009 – but we’ll leave that for later.)
In research literature the Uncertainty Paradox is referred to from several different perspectives. For instance in terms of government regulatory policy it faces the question of making decisions based on risk that can not be assessed with certainty. In research literature it is a question how managers can still make decisions with incomplete or in-exact information (qualitative vs quantitative). (Subscription only link to Roger Palmer article)
We’ll be defining it further as we go along, but for now lets call it the belief that organizations and individuals need insights and strategies to move forward with certainty even under conditions of increasing uncertainty if they are to take advantage opportunities as they are uncovered.
The three of us are tackling the Uncertainty Paradox from our different perspectives. The nice thing about working together is that we each focus on different aspects of preparing a company to innovate and react to maximize profitability.
First an introduction to our ‘circles of influence.’
Preparing (for Leadership) — Differentiating (the Enterprise) —- Connecting (to Customers/Partners/Competitors)
Preparing – Uncertainty demands leadership that is prepared at all levels of an organization to act decisively and timely. In Bill’s book “The Prepared Mind Of A Leader” he describes a key variable:
“Some of us are ordained leaders in our organizations. We have the appropriate title and the appropriate box on the company organization chart. Others of us are left with the unofficial title of “follower.” However, the reality of the need for speed and intelligence on the spot makes this distinction moot. We simply can’t wait for the official chain of command to comprehend the changing world around us: we don’t have the time, and the situation demands a response! Therefore, everyone has the responsibility (but often not the cultural permission) to work outside their job description to take advantage of opportunity that leads to strategic advantage. Leadership is seen in acting with foresight in the best interest of the organization’s value chain, in line with personal and societal values. Prepared Minds enter the action anchored in purpose and unafraid to think and act differently than the status quo.” — Bill Welter – The Prepared Mind of a Leader: Eight Skills Leaders Use to Innovate, Make Decisions, and Solve Problems
Differentiating – Strategically differentiating your enterprise – product, structure, revenue streams, the whole ball of wax – becomes more critical as outside disruptions and outright copying intensifies. In Kay’s book “Beyond Price, Differentiate Your Company in Ways That Really Matter” she talks about shifting from Customer Driven to Market Driven:
“They [Strategically Differentiated Organizations] have broadened their external focus so they can understand the forces at work in the market as a whole, and they make deliberate decisions about both where to compete and how they will stand out from the competition.” — Kay Plantes – Beyond Price: Differentiate Your Company in Ways That Really Matter
Connecting – To many, marketing has become about communications. If you’ve been around me for a while you know that’s not the way I preach the discipline here. Marketing, as I look at it, involves creating and nurturing an organization’s internal and external connections with customers, partners, competitors and marketplace to drive feedback for decisions, productivity gains, and innovation. Disruption tests those connections so they must be secure:
“Driving the marketing discipline through your organization creates entanglements with customers deep down in the soul. It affects creativity in ways that are profound. Just think what would happen if your customer and prospects became an intimate part of your org chart.” Fred Schlegel, Frogblog
Whether you want to call it marketing or something else, we’ll be looking at strategies and ideas that can drive those relationships in the face of uncertainty.
A Group Project
Each of us will be looking at real world tools and strategies that can drive a company, idea or you forward in the face of a world seemingly gone mad. I’m going to leave it to you to visit Bill and Kay’s websites to seek their take on the Uncertainty Paradox and get a better feel for their background. The perspectives overlap and interconnect in ways that even we haven’t fully imagined yet. However, in the spirit of ‘open’ and ‘moving forward with certainty in the face of uncertainty’ we’ve decided to flesh out our ideas in blogger style. We’re hoping that the community of commenter’s at each of our blogs will join the conversation, challenge the ideas put forward and strengthen the concepts so they’ll be of more use.
The three of us are posting introductions to the Uncertainty Paradox today. Add your voice to the discussion here and at their blogs.
(Update 10:00 am : I jumped the gun on publishing by a bit, so Bill and Kay will be posting in a bit. I’ll update links as they are available.) (UPDATE 7/24/2009: Links have been updated to Bill and Kay’s introductory posts.)
Do you have any examples of opportunity born out of uncertainty?
My thanks to Brad Shorr, business blog consultant extraordinaire, for introducing the three of us and instigating this little thought experiment.Photo credit: kr7ysztof via istockphoto.com
The Uncertainty Paradox Three business bloggers search for leadership, strategy and customer relationship insights and certainties in a world full of escalating uncertainties.
- Bill Welter’s Adaptive Strategies blog and his introductory post: “Leadership In Times Of Uncertainty”
- Kay Plantes Business Model Innovations Blog and her introductory post: “Does Business Model Strategy Matter In An Age Of Uncertainty?”
- Fred Schlegel “Tackling The Uncertainty Paradox-An Introduction” (You’re already here!)
Join the continuing conversation at each of our blogs as we explore the implications of the uncertainty paradox.