Turning uncertainty into opportunity

Turning uncertainty into opportunity

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - December 31, 2018 - 12:00am

Judging from the way things are going, the year 2019 might be challenging, and to thrive in it you must head towards the unfamiliar and the unknown instead of away from it. To do so, you must develop a unique relationship and discover a new way of living, working and succeeding in today’s toxic environment.

The book Not Knowing by Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner restructures the concept of “not knowing” from a platform of fear, difficulty and unfamiliarity to a platform of dynamic personal engagement.

The tome, a CMI Best Management Book Awardee, presents a new archetype, where “not knowing” becomes a stimulating prospect, where you are not restrained by what you already know and your customary and almost expected responses to what life throws at you, so that a more profound perspective can surface, full of fertile possibilities and insights. So, at the end of the day, in “not knowing” there’s new knowledge, and the approach to complexity can lead to amazing and incredible achievements in life and business. Here are some helpful takeaways:

The problem with knowledge is in the very fact that it is so useful. You cling to it even in situations where it has the potential to limit you — to paradoxically get in the way of new learning and growth.

Deep knowledge may also limit your perspective. If you are recognized in your area of expertise and rewarded for your specialization, you usually don’t have the incentive to look outside that area. The more specialized you become, the narrower your view may become. Experts are often too invested in what they know to question what they know, or to admit that they don’t know.

Pretending to know can get you into trouble. When faced with a dilemma, a difficult problem to solve or a new situation you’ve never encountered before, you generally believe that you have limited options and tend to paper over the gaps in your knowledge. You either pretend to the world that you have the knowledge and expertise, or you cling to your existing knowledge. While pretending to know can stretch you into new territory, it’s just as likely to get you into a snag when the gaps become obvious.

When you have a compliant relationship with authority, it relieves the anxiety and pain of “not knowing.” However, blind obedience may significantly impact on your ability to make good decisions and perform at your peak. At worst, it can lead to devastating consequences.

Knowledge keeps changing. You would think that the more knowledge expands, the more you know, and by definition, the less you don’t know. The problem with this thinking is that it assumes that the total universe of knowable things is fixed.

Having a map to a largely unknown territory is as useful as having no map at all. Planning and strategy are musts in today’s organizational life, but they perpetuate the illusion that you can work out a way forward that will take you safely to your destination.

There is nothing that you fear more than the unknown. When you step into a new space, where you are faced with an uncertain and complex task, you inevitably come to the edge of your competence, where changes in the energy of the situation occurs where you experience embarrassed laughter, fidgeting or boredom; and where information is missing or keeps being repeated; or if there is nervousness, feelings of getting lost or not knowing what to do next.

Change always involves loss. You do everything you possibly can to avoid loss, even if it means achieving something you’ve always dreamed of. “Not knowing” becomes even more frightening at the edge because you don’t know what you are about to step into and what you are leaving behind.

Purpose and values lie at the center of your being. They give meaning to your life. They give you joy. In the depth of the unknown, clear values and purpose may be the only things that you can hold on to. They can be the compasses that will help you orient and move forward even if you are unsure of the destination.

Admitting that you don’t know can develop a sense of connection with those around you. There is a potential risk in doing this, but the vulnerability and humility in that admission can bring you closer to the people you work with, and can engage them in the challenge of moving forward and trying to solve the problem at hand.

There are many ways you avoid the unknown. When you come close to something you do not understand, or are faced with something unexpected or inexplicable, you tend to control, become passive and withdraw, analyze things endlessly, resort to catastrophic thinking, jump into action, get busy or apply quick fixes. You marginalize the experience because it disturbs you too much.

When venturing into the unknown, celebrating milestones and little successes along the way is very important, even if the result might be years away. Identify those significant moments; they are important steps. Make sure you do not diminish your achievements. Celebrate with those who have helped you get there. Believe that you only have one life. Nobody can give you a second one.

The act of saying “I don’t know” sends a clear signal to others that this is a situation where existing knowledge will not be your guide. It gives you and others permission to look for other ways to be a beginner again. Acknowledging your limitations is incredibly liberating. As Jean-Jacques writes, “I do not know is a phrase which becomes us.”

Doubt is a doorway to possibility and admitting doubt shows flexibility and openness to learning and creativity. The assumption that admitting doubt is a weakness is a barrier to engaging with “not knowing.” You don’t want people to see the more unsure part of yourself; you assume that if people saw your doubt, they would lose faith in you and you don’t like the way this makes you feel.

Discernment is more than insight or good judgment. It is not an intellectual exercise of determining an outcome. It is a process of seeking and listening to hear an inner, sacred voice. It is clearing your mind and operating yourself to hearing the stirrings of a message.

Learning from mistakes is a positive break. You must self-police and be tougher on yourself. Work on creating an attitude of accepting mistakes and learning and growing from them, which is a key to effectiveness in “not knowing.”

Failure should be viewed as an inevitable part of operating in a complex and uncertain environment. Not expecting to get it right the first time frees you up to get up and try again. In a commencement speech to Harvard University, international bestselling author JK Rowling talked about failure as a “stripping away of the inessential.”  It allowed her to stop pretending to herself about who she was and start to focus her energy on what mattered most, her writing. “I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized,” she explained.

Change is an opportunity. Turning uncertainty into opportunity is an art. It takes a very special type of leader to manage improbability and flip it into a differential advantage.

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Email bongosorio@gmail.com.

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