Embrace Uncertainty

by Mike Shipulski

Embrace UncertaintyThere’s a lot of stress in the working world these days, and to me, it all comes down to our blatant disrespect of uncertainty.

In today’s reality, we ask for plans then demand strict adherence to the deliverables – on time, on budget, or else. We treat plans like they’re chiseled in granite, when really it should be more like dry erase markers and a whiteboard. Our markets are uncertain; customers’ behaviors are uncertain; competitors’ actions are uncertain; supply chains are uncertain, yet our plans are plans don’t reflect that reality. And when we expect absolute predictability and accountability, we create stress and anxiety and our people don’t want to try new things because that adds another level of uncertainty.

With a flexible, rubbery plan the first step informs the second, and this is the basis for the logical shift from robust plans to resilient ones. Plans should be less about forcing adherence and more about recognizing deviation. Today’s plans demand early recognition of something that did follow the plan and today’s teams must have the authority to respond quickly. However, after years of denying the powerful force of uncertainty and shooting the messenger, we’ve trained our people to hide the deviations. And, with our culture of control and accountability, our teams require our approval before any type of change, so their response time is, well, not timely.

At our core, we know uncertainty is a founding principle in our universe, and now it’s time to behave that way. It’s time to look inside and decide to embrace uncertainty. Accept it or not, acknowledge it or not, uncertainty is here to stay. Here are some words to guide your journey:

  • Resilient not robust.
  • Early detection, fast response.
  • Many small plans, done in parallel.
  • Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
  • Plans are meant to be re-planned.

And if you’re into innovation, this applies doubly.

image credit – dfbphotos

Follow @ixchat on twitter

Wait! Before you go.

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

No comments

  1. We have dealt with uncertainty since the 70’s at SRI International and Stanford University; then SDG (Strategic Decisions Group) and as SmartOrg since 2000. Our business is all about dealing with uncertainty and “making uncertainty your friend.” Our history derives from the founders of Decision Analysis. We presently supply enterprise software to companies like Boeing Commercial Airplane Technology, TEVA Pharmaceuticals,Dow AgroSciences and others. The process is thoroughly discussed in two books by our founders: The Smart Organization: Creating Value through Strategic R&D (Harvard Business School Press) and Decision Analysis for the Professional Third Edition. I agree with everything you say!

Leave a Reply