Top six rules for dealing with uncertainty

No. 1: Don’t take it lying down

Todd Ordal

“Toddy-boy, you’re just going to have to deal with the ambiguity!”

Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, said that to me after significantly changing our growth targets. I’d just spent weeks working with my team on capital plans, new store locations, staffing plans, etc., for the coming year. I wanted to kill the bastard, and he laughed when he said it!

Turns out, he taught me a valuable lesson.

As a senior executive, you must try to provide a clear path forward for your people. They deserve it, and making predictions is part of your job (see Prepare for bends in the road). However, as a senior manager, you need to sometimes plow ahead with momentary certainty when there’s ambiguity.

Here are six rules for dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty:

1. Don’t take ambiguity lying down. Do something about it! What can you do to search for clarity? Fretting isn’t good for your self-esteem or the business.

2. Be transparent with your team members. Tell them the future is uncertain and there are many moving parts, but treading water isn’t a good option. You’ll need their help figuring out a path.

3. Sometimes temporarily doing nothing is your best option. Get over it. If, however, you wait for problems to solve themselves and decisions to make themselves, you’ll get passed on the race to the finish line.

4. Shoot for success, not perfection. Once you have 80 percent of the information you need to make a decision, make it. Spending hours, weeks or months looking for the one thing that’ll make all of your problems disappear is usually a waste of time.

5. If you can’t see clarity, try to make it. Create you own future rather than have it foisted on you.

6. Don’t amplify or create ambiguity and uncertainty. Think then speak or act. Ambiguity in art is often a positive, but in business communication or strategic direction, it’s lethal.

“A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”
—Segal’s law

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