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14 Oct 2008 / Julie

How to operate in uncertainty

I was going to start this post with the definition of uncertainty. But unfortunately, i got sidetracked because Merriam Webster used the word in the definition. Didn’t anyone ever tell them they can’t do that?

Okay, so un·cer·tain·ty is the inability to predict or know what is to come what to do. This can occur due to lack of data. Organizations can be uncertain about what direction to move if they don’t know about where their own values lie (lay?) or what their customers want. Usually the way to figure this out is to do some organizational soul searching and maybe even *cough* ask their customers what they want *cough*.

Large systems can be uncertain, and people can be uncertain about the future of those larger systems. The current status of the economy comes to mind. But with a little trust and a little understanding of how things interplay with each other, the uncertainty settles. If all else fails, time tells all.

But what happens when the uncertainty prevails so deep that you don’t even know the right questions to ask? Let alone how to answer them?

When you or your organization looks around and realizes you have no idea where you’re standing, let alone where you need to go, it’s time to do the only thing you can do. Take one day at a time.

I do love that phrase, “one day at at time” (as if more than one day at a time was really a possibility) but it speaks to the fact that you need to go back to self-care mode. Both individual or organization. Eat, sleep, wash, pay your bills, (or the organizational equivalents) and prepare yourself for the time when you will know where you are and what you need to do.

Worry doesn’t help things. Worry doesn’t answer questions. If you’re anything like me, though, while you understand you can’t know about everything around you, you can usually know where your own value’s lie (lay?) and the general idea of where you want to end up (even if you don’t know how you’re going to get there). But sometimes we find ourselves in places where we don’t even know that.

So we go back to basics. After crisis (or during crisis) we, as human beings and a society, tend to go back to basics- reevaluate the things that “really matter” to us or to our organizations and set a path from there.

It’s human nature, to want to know what’s going to happen, to want to know what to do. But it’s also the natural state of things that sometimes we don’t get to know. And that’s okay. Beyond the really scary is something more liberating. Something that forces us to just go with the flow of things because we have no other choice but to see where it takes us. Perhaps we’ll end up at a point where we’ll know what to do again, but until then, we can see the world for all it’s possibilities, even if it’s because we’re searching for something to stick.

Yesterday I spoke at a local library system’s staff day and during the opening keynote, the economic crisis was spoken about- how could it not be, we’re all going to be feeling the effects of this if we’re not already. The director of the library system spoke of what i’m now naming “getting back to basics.” She freely admitted she didn’t know what was going to happen but that she knew how she, and her library system, was going to be able to make it through. They were going to make it through excellent customer service. By providing the excellent customer care they’ve always been (but perhaps a little more now). They were going to get through it by cutting corners, yes; by making due without things they may be used to having, yes; but they were going to be able to get through things by continuing to do the things that matter- self care and the care of their customers.

What better way to get through crisis than to forget the worry and take care of yourself and those around you? The answers will come, and because you’ll have been taking care of the important things, you’ll be ready to act on them.

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