Living With Uncertainty

Living with Uncertainty - Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Many of my clients are in the business of living with uncertainty. Their work involves longer time spans. They have to be patient and wait for the seeds to germinate and sprout into successful outcomes. Waiting for feedback is difficult. Will their actions yield the desired results? And the wait time can be months and even years. It leads to anxiety. Have we done enough? Should we do more?

Farmers are living with uncertainty

Consider an analogy with a farmer who has planted their seasonal crop. They plough the field and plant the seeds following age old practices. By the time the seed germinates and sprouts, it is too late to start over, they are stuck with what they have. They understand the game, and they are willing to trust and wait for the results. To balance the risk, they have more than one field. It would be more efficient to farm one very big field but there is a risk putting all your eggs in one basket. Instead they plant different crops from field to field creating a portfolio of crops. If one fails or the market price is low, they can fall back on others.
My client has the equivalent of one field and they were asking if they had done enough. No seeds were appearing through the surface yet. There is no end to the amount of work they could do, limited only by their physical capacity. But would doing more really help? Probably not. Like the farmer, they have to wait the duration of the germination time to assess the health of their crop. If we aren’t willing to wait, are we in the right business? Things won’t happen faster because we’d like them to.

Learning to live with uncertainty

Like the farmer, we can make living with uncertainty easier by spreading the risk across several ventures. At the end of the day there is no right answer and it comes down to our risk tolerance. Some people are happy with all their eggs in one basket. The key is recognizing the level of uncertainty involved upfront and deciding if you are ok with it. How many eggs are you putting in each basket?
The movie Biggest Little Farm tells the story of playing the long game and doing the right things. John and Molly buy the farm and start with a wasteland. There is no end to the amount of things they could do, but they decide try one thing at a time, learn from the results and try the next thing. It requires patience and a high tolerance for risk. How would you do on this farm?

Comments (2)

This post was a great provocation for reflection Andy. I also think that for many of us in business, our projects are highly dependent on complex collaboration with several others, each of whom has a different appetite/tolerance for risk — in other words, our “weather” can change even more quickly (or slowly) than the farmer’s and the uncertainty is accompanied by greater volatility. Nonetheless the analogy is a good one.
Many Thanks.

That is a very good point Philip, these situations are far more complex. Going in with our eyes open is key. 🙂

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