This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com
I was intending to write about the impact we all suffer from the on-going stress that the series of fiscal cliffs—this one the debt ceiling—are causing, but I think the more serious issue is the chronic uncertainty that the series of financial issues creates for us as a society.
As an entrepreneur, people think of me as a risk-taker, an adventurer. Yes and no. I don’t take gratuitous risks, and I doubt you do, either—but it’s the way in which we respond to and meet risk head on that gives us our edge. I’m not less fearful than you are—but I understand the value of calibrating an organization so that we’re able to respond, and not just react, for the unplanned-for scenario.
In his book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Hate Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman describes the strength of entrepreneurs not in their ability to think like chefs, “concocting a vision of a dish and then hunting for the perfect ingredients,” but as “ordinary, time-pressed home cooks, checking what was in the fridge and the cupboards, then figuring out, on the fly, what they could make and how.” For adventurer and psychologist Matthew Walker, author of Adventure in Everything, the ability to not just embrace uncertainty is “a gift that frees up the energy you wasted trying to control the outcome, which then allows you to be present to potentiality.”
Entrepreneurs, while known for being tenacious and steadfast about pursuing their goals and passions, may be more pragmatic and easy going than they are generally given credit for. I asked Cheryl Y. Kiser, Executive Director of The Lewis Institute and Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Babson College: “We can learn from successful entrepreneurs who thrive in constant pressure by observing how they act. By nature those that think and act entrepreneurial create and adjust constantly. Assessing one’s acceptable loss, intentionally iterating, accepting current reality as friend not foe, learning from those you have enrolled along the way, are all powerful strategies for dealing with the stress of living in unpredictable and often times unknowable times.”
Easier said than done, right? Because to some degree, we want to know what will or could happen, and of course, we can’t. The sooner we recognize that, the more effectively we can respond to the actual situation as it unfolds.
Here are my strategies for trying to do just this—and trust me, I have to practice them like anyone.
- Think leadership over goals. We all love goals. They give us something to aim for and measure ourselves against. But if you stay too focused on a goal and not present to the needs of your team and your organization, you will be left clinging to an unmet goal and have a host of other problems. Shift your focus from achieving to adapting.
- Stay light on your feet. Sometimes what you planned or hoped for has to change—and that means adapting to the shift and moving the goal posts if you have to. For instance, say you thought hitting a certain sales number was most important by Q2—when you realize that it’s far more critical to build up your resources or acquire new team members.
- Don’t waste time trying to be right. One thing that stands between you and adaptability is your ego. Clinging to what you thought you knew, in the face of evidence to the contrary, will slow you down and possibly sabotage your efforts. No one said risk takers have to be right all the time, but they do have to admit when they’re wrong so they can readjust. Ask yourself, Is it worth to be right, or to be successful. You can go either way.
Join me in embracing uncertainty for this New Year. It may be just the frame of mind we all need to capitalize on whatever gets thrown our way; and it may be a good strategy for our folks in Washington as well.