At Pollenizer we always encourage people to make their visions big, towards global-scale problems and markets. But what if that big vision also has to accommodate rapid, unpredictable change?
First, Brexit and now the results of the US Presidential Election have prompted the Harvard Business Review to write: “The World Just Got More Uncertain and Your Strategy Needs to Adjust”. I was amongst those who confidently opined to friends and family alike that Trump would never win, just as I had doubted Brexit would ever happen. Yet these two Black Swan events did happen, and we’ve all been kicked out of our complacency: the world is a lot less predictable than we thought, and ‘serious’ sources are now writing articles about how people can manage their anxiety about the future in a world where everything is suddenly uncertain– like CNN, The New York Times, even the BBC.
Uncertainty is something that we equate with confusion, lack of confidence, being overwhelmed by complexity, volatility, unpredictability. It’s bad right!? Our projects are going to derail, misunderstandings will happen, we’ll make assumptions and mistakes, be punished and everyone will blame us. We’re taught again and again that minimizing uncertainty is a smart approach to decrease risk of failure and avoid bad outcomes. Or is it?
Author of Black Swans Nassim Nicholas Taleb – the book which coined the same phrase, about unexpected, game-changing, world-altering events – wrote another book called AntiFragile in which he argues that it’s foolhardy to try to predict the future to try and reduce uncertainty. Instead, he argues that its essential to make peace with randomness and volatility, to recognize why “street-smarts” are more robust than “being organized”, why culture trumps strategy, how to thrive on uncertainty.
Within Pollenizer’s Startup Science method lies an anti-fragile core: treat facts as assumptions to be tested via experiments, treat the actions people take in response to those experiments as a currency to validate business models, treat failures as priceless moments for learning and gaining insights. Our programs teach founders and big companies an anti-fragile truth (credited to 500 Startups’ Dave McClure): a startup is a company uncertain about what its product is, who the customer is, or how to make money.
If you’re going to go big, we believe you need to recognise that the secret ingredient of entrepreneurship – the very thing which has led it to transform entire economies, create staggering wealth, and establish itself as the most potent engines for growth and renewal in the world today – is embracing uncertainty.
So if you’re a would-be entrepreneur considering the jump to your own startup, OR a large organization who are feeling increasingly fragile in a fast-changing, complex world with a future we can’t predict, try accepting that you can’t know and plan everything. In fact, you never really could. Use the openness to possibilities that it represents to question (fragile?) assumptions, learn faster, and start running experiments which might fail (in meaningful ways).
To go bigger, faster, invest in people and technologies united within an entrepreneurial frame. Thrive on uncertainty.
Partner & Startup Scientist
Tim is an experienced tech sector exec and 20-year veteran of commercial digital product innovation worldwide. He's now returning to deeper technologies with Pollenizer's XO – Exponential Organisations – program, helping to unlock opportunities in deep tech: energy, health, agritech, smart cities and space.
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