Uncertainty and Preserving Options

“Uncertainty is a permanent part of the leadership landscape. It never goes away.” – Andy Stanley

As we have reached over 32,000 coronavirus cases in the US, with many cities asking its residents to stay home, with funders closing programs, and with the overarching situation continuing to unfold, I wanted to share a personal message about how I am dealing with this situation.  

I am not someone who likes uncertainty—and I ask many, many questions in order to gain clarity in any situation.  I like to dig deeply into complex problems, clear the noise and make decisions.  Yet during these times there simply may not be answers.  We are operating in a time of uncertainty and this is not easy.  

So what do we do?

I have found insights by Patrick Collison, founder of Stripe, to be especially helpful.  In an article published by the Knowledge Project entitled “Preserving our Optionality Collison”, he wrote:  

“How do we prepare for a world that often changes drastically and rapidly? We can preserve our optionality. We don’t often get the advice to keep our options open.  And we should.  We live in a world that’s constantly changing, and if we can’t respond effectively to those changes, we become redundant, frustrated, and useless. Instead of focusing on becoming great at one thing, there is another, counterintuitive strategy that will get us further: preserving optionality. The more options we have, the better suited we are to deal with unpredictability and uncertainty. We can stay calm when others panic because we have choices.”

This rings so true for me, especially given the current times.  Optionality means that we are always preparing for a variety of possible outcomes.  We assume the next challenge is around the corner and we are constantly listening to diverse voices in order to be prepared. 

Ultimately, preserving optionality means examining our work from multiple perspectives—diversity of thought, knowledge and skills are required. It means building a versatile base of foundational knowledge and expecting the unexpected.  As Collison said, ”Rapid, extraordinary change is the norm. In order to adapt in a way that is useful, keep your options open.  To do that we must seek to expand our comfort zone and circle of competence”.

So in this time of uncertainty, let’s find strategic ways to preserve our options.  Let’s be smart, making decisions that can weather this storm.

And in the meantime, breathe.  I want to share a poem with you that has great meaning to me and when things seem overwhelming, I listen to it.