Uncertainty Principles


Whether it is about Brexit or about AI and the speed of technological advances, many are calling this the Age of Uncertainty. We all have a sweet spot somewhere between Certainty and Uncertainty and for each of us it is different. People who work in steady, and fairly secure, jobs and perhaps have lived in the same area that they grew up, tend to have a low threshold for Uncertainty. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, tend to enjoy a much higher level of Uncertainty.

The technological advances are affecting, mostly, those who had the steady jobs. In a previous blog I discussed the sort of jobs that are most likely to go with the advances in AI. As an entrepreneur these advances are often seen as a good thing. We can do much more without bringing employees in to the business, and those things we need help with can be achieved through outsourcing, using the gig economy, with sites like Fiverr and Peopleperhour, or employing Virtual PAs, freelance Marketing Managers or Social Media Managers.

For entrepreneurs the constant wrangling over Brexit is doing more damage to the economy than is ever likely to happen whichever way the final result goes. Reports are beginning to show how the Brexit argument is reducing retail spending but those in business have been hit hard for the last couple of years as businesses hold back from spending because they don’t know what the business landscape will look like when the results are finally in. Will we be in or out, will we have WTO rules, Norway plus, Super-Canada…?

Many of the clients I work with have seen a reduction in their turnover and some have experienced businesses going under owing them money. As far as Brexit is concerned, nothing has actually changed yet, so much of this can be put down to uncertainty. With businesses unable to plan how they will work in some new paradigm (if there is one) some, such as Wetherspoons, are going down the route of sourcing many of their products inside the UK, others are moving their businesses or production outside of the UK (and often out of the EU as well) or cutting jobs within the UK. Most are citing lack of clarity so they are planning for the most extreme outcome. Corporations, like an oil tanker, take time to change direction; the great thing about being a small business is your agility.

However, big businesses, just like the owner-operator businesses, are run by people, and people don’t like too much Uncertainty.  Uncertainty causes anxiety and fear. Just as it is not the dark that makes people scared but what they can imagine to be in it, and most people with a fear of spiders cite the way they can move in any direction that frightens them the most, we have evolved to have a fear of the unknown, the unexpected, the uncertain.  The anxiety and fear is due to the perceived lack of control or self-efficacy, the feeling you have the ability to cope in a situation. Uncertainty, whatever the environment, is as much a mindset as certainty, after all, certainty requires you to filter out more information than you process. Feeling certain about anything is to ignore all the possible risks, which is why every business needs to be looking to its Risk Analysis.

Risk has both losses and opportunities – dependent entirely on how you evaluate the situation. The loss of a job will cause many people to become anxious about their future but for others this can be seen as the opportunity to make a career change, to do what they always wanted to do, to get out of a rut they have found themselves in (it can be too scary to jump but when you are pushed you find you can make the change). Risk can be interpreted as: ‘probability’, which in this Age of Uncertainty is hard to work out; the magnitude of negative consequence of a situation – which when we have no idea what the situation might, finally, be, is almost impossible to work out; or a combination of both. This really leads us nowhere in planning for the next 12-24 months, let alone the long term, leading us to even greater uncertainty.

Coping with uncertainty requires a positive outlook and some planning. Positive outlook is bolstered by conviction. Conviction that what you are doing is right and expresses your deeper values gives you a certain type of certainty – that you are doing the ‘right’ thing. Conviction is about being for something: for justice, for the environment, for equality, for humanity etc. It produces a Growth Mindset – the feeling that you can develop your abilities by learning and work, that there is nothing you can’t do, if you want to enough and you want to because it’s important to you. Conviction also allows you to imagine how you want things to be, rather than focussing on what you don’t want (something our parliament could do with doing!).

So what are the best actions to take in this Age of Uncertainty?

  • Carry out a Risk Analysis
  • Look for the opportunities
  • Focus on deeper values – what do you stand for, what does your business stand for?
  • Learn and develop yourself (and your staff)
  • Connect – social connection is the best antidote to most of human anxiety – just connect with other positive people!

Or, as one of my clients recently said to me – just don’t participate in the uncertainty!

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