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THE QUEST FOR CERTAINTY
Yes, it would be nice to be certain-even some of the time. However, finding certainty in this unpredictable, rapidly changing world isn’t a possibility. It simply isn’t there. Even the past is subject to interpretation. What does that say about being certain of a future result? Give it up. Those that defy this reality and continue the hunt for certainty or incorrectly declare they have found it make big time mistakes. With greater perceived certainty comes a closed mind. Why think more about something of which we are certain? This is flawed thinking and the harbinger of ominous results. When we stop listening we increase the likelihood of failure.Growing up my worldview was colored by many certainties. Walter Cronkite was always there, American cars were the best, you could tell the good guys from the bad guys, we trusted our leaders to do the right thing, if you worked hard you would move up the ladder and your job was secure for as long as you wanted it, when you married you stay married, in business school we were even taught to have a 5 year financial plan (how crazy is that today?) and so on. No, it was not a perfect world but it seemed more predictable. With less change comes more predictability. With the advent of the Internet, 24 hour talking heads, Smartphones and exponentially increased computing capacity the pace of change and the volume of information available has accelerated to a level that sometimes seems to outrun our capacity to internalize it. The world has never been more fluid and harder to understand than today. What’s hot one day is ice cold the next. Information overload challenges our decision making process. In this climate nothing is certain except that nothing is certain.
All of this said there has never been a more exciting time to be alive. Everyone is confronted with the same exogenous variables. It is how we choose to deal with them that determines our success. Today’s uncertainties help us better understand our potential and deal with tomorrow’s. Those who continue to pursue the quest for certainty in today’s world are those that lead unhappy, frustrated lives and never maximize their potential. The key to success is an open mind and a nimbleness that is comfortable with uncertainty. The more at ease we are with uncertainty the better our decisions. Demanding certainty or professing certainty in today’s world undermines results. Making decisions with insufficient data because we are so “certain”, or never making a decision because we don’t have enough data to be certain are both success killers. They frustrate co-workers and contribute to mediocrity.
A healthy decision making process defines great leaders. Great leaders make decisions without demanding certainty. Balancing the need for information with the time constraints of the decision, as well as its scope, is what great leaders do well daily. They know they must believe in their judgment as well as that of others they trust if they are to make good, timely decisions. They know that there is no guarantee that the decision they make is a good one. They know mistakes will be made. They also know they will never have enough information to be certain of the results. Individuals unwilling or unable to accept this will fail as leaders.
Give up the quest for certainty. It contributes nothing to the quest for success.