Uncertainty in business

by Ben Pujji

Sorry, but uncertainty is no longer a ‘sometimes’ thing.

Businesses used to be faced with uncertainty every now and then. Or have just some parts of their business tackling, or reacting to uncertainty at any given time.

Managing uncertainty, was a sometimes thing. Business leaders were selected and incentivised to run mainly stable environments, to deliver steady, stable improvements. They were praised and rewarded for ‘dealing with’ uncertainty as and when it appeared, but often their success was measured by how we’ll they managed the downside – not for the upside they extracted. Uncertainty was about risk, not about opportunity.

Business Advisory from the big consulting firms are a good example. They can find the risks, help you mitigate them. They are a comforting presence in the face of uncertainty – if the measure of success is how well a business leader has managed the downside, those advisors are essential when the uncertainty is high.

Traditional PR is another. When the risk is realised, damage control is king. While the real issues get addressed, the focus turns to appearances – the court of public opinion. The business leader who understands that more damage can come from the perception of the issue than the issue itself, is quick to engage their traditional PR advisors to stem the damage.

But who is looking for the opportunities created by uncertainty?

Many business leaders are still trying to get things back to normal as quickly as they can, so they can return to what they’ve been hired for, stable, steady, consistent improvement.

They see the opportunities that come with uncertainty as more risky than the downside.

The market of suppliers, advisors, agencies, and specialist experts, who have grown up selling what their customers want (stability, consistency, predictability, comfort) are scrambling to evolve. But they too are protecting their today-business, and finding it hard to grow up, as well as facing the commercial reality of being unable to sell to clients who aren’t ready to evolve. It’s just as hard for those legacy businesses to evolve as it is for their clients.

The trouble is that uncertainty is no longer a sometimes thing, and the world isn’t standing still while you figure this out. That’s actually the point.

In the digital age, while some things stay the same, a lot changes, then changes again, then changes again. Business leaders need to quite literally divide the parts of their business which are long-range, and the parts of their business which are likely to change endlessly.

The skill, is then managing each differently, appropriately. A customer, is a long-term asset that you nurture, grow and deepen your relationship with. How those customers interact with you will constantly change, though. Your big technology, your brand positioning, your revenue sources, your staff, your process, your data, working out which ones are the long games, and which ones need to be constantly adapted, then having the foresight and skill to tackle each appropriately, will be one the defining skills of a modern business leader.

What’s your plan?

Do you agree? What’s your plan?

Having worked as an advisor to businesses under many guises, from the perspectives of technology, to design, communications and marketing, data and digital, I’ve had the opportunity to be there mining the upside of uncertainty for clients, as well as helping manage the downside. There are many business leaders reorganising their business to embrace constant change, but too many who are still surprised and unprepared.

I’m looking forward to helping more and more businesses adapt to and embrace the opportunities of constant-uncertainty, and look forward to seeing more businesses saying remarkable things like Apple did recently when Tim Cook mentioned “Eighty percent of our revenues are from products that didn’t exist 60 days ago”.

It’s been said by smarter people than I

Seth Godin’s latest book, The Icarus Deception is another, more articulate take on this which I’m currently enjoying. It’s about the risks of setting your sights too low, not the age-old no-no of being seen to set them too high.

Mark Disomma’s post: Can you innovate too quickly provides another, thoughtful take on this area

And to hijack, paraphrase, remove the religious aspect of, and make relevant the cheesy but timeless Serenity prayer:

Have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change,
The courage to change the things you can,
The wisdom to know the difference,
And the skill to know how.


I’m mixing it up in 2013, and have resigned my job to continue relentlessly finding better ways of being more effective, more of the time, more enjoyably. I’m available for freelance consulting and contracting from the 15th of Feb, and embracing the change, I am just hoping to see how things go as the year progresses. Exciting times. Email me. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn. Call me on +64 21 432 099.