Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Distinguishing risks and uncertainties – and what to do about that.
The young me, seemed to get into trouble, ever so often!
I was in the military, so my troubles were not, only my own. Everyone with me or around me, got immersed in the ‘troubled outcomes’ together. Toiling for someone else’s sins is obviously not enjoyable, so a buddy, now a life-long friend, would irritatedly question, on every such instance, – “You do these things, or they happen to you?” [In hindi – Tu karta hai, ke hota hai?]
We completed training and things got real. Still young and early in my career, a few such occurrences got me thinking about the question, “Do I cause problems or problems happen to me?” This got me noticing the progression, deeply.
My job invariably involved people, for whose well-being I was responsible and situations, where mistakes could be fatal, margins for failure being quite thin. In case of a fault or failure, – what may seem like reason to me, would sound more like excuses to everyone I was responsible for. My thoughts got me to examine situations, my team and everyone’s responses, including my own. What were the risks? Was the outcome certain, or uncertain? I began noticing.
Noticing such things transformed me. Quickly!
I had to learn to grasp these things, while events were playing out. These experiences got me into the habit of distinguishing between risks and uncertainties.
The difference between risk and uncertainty.
Quite simply, risks are threats that we chose to face. One knows that they are there. Uncertainty, as literally, is every other aspect of situations, good or bad, that we don’t yet know! But living our lives, we tend not to notice the difference between the two. If you do notice, perhaps you will notice a bit of muddled thinking, if I ask you the question “life is risky business, do you have a plan? "
No?! Well it goes like this.
We get ready to take risks. You know the risks of a threat, so you prepare to meet it. Therefore, you carry a parachute, take out financial insurance, wear a coat, take malaria shots, a bullet proof jacket, carry a spare and such-like.
We have alternate plans for uncertainties. You start with ‘A’ plan, prepared for inherent risks. Then if it does not go as expected, you are running into uncertainty. In the face of uncertainty you adapt or switch the plan. Time for plan ‘B’! Therefore, if the automatic system doesn’t work, you switch to manual; If the regular route is closed you try a different way; If the pinstriped is not ironed, you wear the regular white – and such-like.
What to do about it?
The main thing is to notice and recognise We make a plan in good faith, to go into uncertainty for good outcomes. This plan will have anticipated kinks, which threaten to scuttle the plan. We prepare ourselves to meet these threats. Strengthen our minds and resolve, bolster our resources and jump in.
What if things are not going to the ‘good outcome’? Change the plan. The new plan too will have its own kinks and threats, which may need a different set of readiness. So the back-up plan, catering for the risks along the way, has to also be prepared for, right at the start.
Plan for the un-planable. Impatience is the enemy of success. Perhaps 80% of the time gets taken up in thinking-out alternate plans, then getting equipped to face the inherent threats, in each plan. This is also the time, to take stock of the kind of qualities that one must develop, for success. For example:-
Dealing with uncertainties : Experience (own or borrowed), Imagination, Anticipation..etc
Dealing threats: Competence, Confidence, Decisiveness..etc
Work the plan. The rest 20% is the time it takes to do the work. Here patience takes the shape of being watchful. Looking for the red-flags that will signal the popping up of threats. To actually meet, and deal, with them. Taking the plan to the outcome.
Being ‘switched-on’ to switch. The ugliest feeling, with a hopeful mind, is the job of being ever watchful if ‘good outcomes’ are what we are heading for. If however the plan is to be changed, then picking the point of making the switch, and settling into it with the same gusto, takes all of ones focus, experience and ability. It’s a skill. Skills are always worthwhile to work on!
It boils down, finally, to becoming the person who would notice and know the difference.
The author is Lead-Coach and co-founder of Explode Programmes. Visit: www.explodexperience.com