Uncertainty—Is it the new normal?

I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen, when, where and how. If you’re familiar with the classic personality types, you can imagine how an environment with no room for that level of certainty could put someone like me (equal parts Type A and Type C) into a tailspin.

Maybe you’ve felt this uncertainty in your work world, too. Maybe direction isn’t clear. Maybe leadership is in flux. Maybe the landscape is changing so quickly that your 12-month plan doesn’t stand a chance of making it past the first six weeks without revision. I have to think it’s not just me. My inbox has seen more than a couple of news bits lately about “corporate chaos” and the air of uncertainty being the new normal.

“How do you even begin to plan for the now when you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring?” It’s a question posed by one of those news bits I referenced. The author, Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute, suggests that humans typically respond to impending chaos in one of three ways:

  • we freeze (seeking safety in inactivity),
  • we get chaotic ourselves (seeking safety in hyperactivity), or,
  • we continue down the path we’ve laid (embracing the chaos).

I recently had the opportunity to “embrace the chaos.” And as much as it was uncomfortable for a Type C like me going in, it actually worked to my benefit!

I was hired to do some strategy work for a Fortune 500 company. The “chaos” came from the fact that while I agreed to be onsite with the client for three days, I did not have a clearly-defined scope of work outlining what they needed and how we would spend those days until a week before “show time!” I knew I would lead back-to-back workshops but as much as I wanted to plan each workshop down to the quarter-hour, I couldn’t do it until I acquired additional information onsite. And even when I did have what I needed for the first workshop, I was continuously gathering new information that would inform and shift the next day’s activity.

So rather than plan with the extreme Type C detail that I am so comfortable with, I had to get cozy being outside my comfort zone (hear what professor, author and consultant Andy Molinsky has to say on the topic) and allow myself to work and think in the moment. I planned as much as I possibly could (goals, objectives, and activities planned for fluid blocks of time) and tried to anticipate the different paths our work might take us. But then I had to trust myself to pivot…live, in front of a pretty esteemed audience (and brand-new client).

And it worked! Not only that, but I also learned a lot about working outside my comfort zone:

  • I realized no one expects me to have all of the answers before the we even know what the questions are.
  • I recognized the most valid, authentic outcomes come from trusting the process and leveraging the value of collaboration within a room full of very smart people.
  • I trusted my ability to think on my feet, and to allow new information to continuously mold and shape the process as it unfolded.

Was it a test for me? Hell yes! But was it successful? Absolutely. The client was happy, we have a path for moving forward, and I am infinitely more comfortable embracing the uncertainty that seems to be the new normal. That’s how I will enter into this new year.

what uncertainty lurks in your organization?

Instead of seeking safety in inactivity or hyperactivity, let’s talk about strategies for your marketing so you can embrace the uncertainty and move forward with confidence. I’d love to help.

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