How to navigate your business successfully in uncertain times

Illustration by Simona Cellar

I recently stumbled upon this quote by Prophet Partner Kate Price:

“The challenges facing marketers are the challenges facing all of us. How do I focus on the big picture, the long-term game, when the now keeps changing?”

– Kate Price

It got me thinking. Uncertainty has always been a constant companion in our lives. No matter where we are in time of history, we are always confronted with it, whether we like it or not. The way we do business is constantly evolving and changing: Evolving marketing strategies, the constant changes within social media platforms or new innovations such as ChatGPT. We’re even confronted with unimaginable things, such as a health crisis like the corona virus that threw us off completely.

These constant changes are exhausting. We constantly have to think on our feet. This leads to lost focus, inaction and feeling stuck. Because when new ideas pop up, it’s hard to know which way to go. Or we panic and feel like we need to act instantly and jump on every new thing, when it appears.

How do we deal with this?

Having strategies in place helps us to stop, think and reflect. We can then act calmly and based on what makes most sense specifically to our unique businesses and situations.

The benefits of learning how to deal with uncertainty

Since we’ve established that uncertainty is here to stay and a repeating occurrence, we start to recognize the benefits of having strategies in place to deal with uncertain situations. According to McKinsey & Company leaders need behaviors and mindsets during a crisis that prevent them from overreacting and help them to look ahead.

As designers, uncertainty is a constant companion within our process. By having mastered our process, we can trust in it. Since we’re creating something from scratch, we are faced with uncertainty when we begin our process. But we know that after uncertainty we’ll be rewarded with insight which leads us to the ability to make the right choices and come to the right conclusions and solutions. Being used to uncertainty, definitely has its benefits. Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr, authors of the book „The upside of uncertainty” also explain that “people comfortable with uncertainty are more creative and more successful as entrepreneurs”.

So how can we learn to deal with uncertainty?

In my research I took a closer look at how our mindsets and actions can become more deliberate to deal with uncertainty. I found out how our own confidence in our ability impact positively how we deal with change. I looked at the design thinking process and how it can aid us in the decision-making process. And lastly, I looked at how we can deal authentically with uncertainty by playing into our personalities.

How to deal with uncertainty through our mindsets and actions

Dealing with uncertainty has a lot to do with our own mindsets and actions. Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr present an extensive framework in their book that helps align our thoughts and actions to deal with uncertainty. They call it the “Uncertainty first-aid cross”.

The uncertainty first-aid cross includes four areas and tools:

Illustration by Simona Cellar

  • Reframe tools enable and strengthen a perspective shift and help you see the positives in uncertainty.
  • Prime tools prepare you by encouraging projects that matter to you.
  • Do tools unlock the rewarding possibilities when you allow yourself to move through uncertainty.
  • Sustain tools give comfort and remind you why and how to keep going.

Reframe tools:

  • See uncertainty as something positive and not negative.
  • A world with too much certainty becomes boring and repetitive, which we want to escape from.
  • Introduce some novelty and uncertainty. This helps you reach the learning zone, where you grow and develop.

Prime tools:

  • Know your risks: Evaluate if taking the risk makes sense.
  • Have more than one project, multiple options or back-up plans ready.
  • Balance out uncertainty with habits, routines, rituals and relationships. These things give you security and ground you.

Do tools:

  • Start, even if you’re not ready. Learn as you go. Practice makes perfect, don’t give up too easily, maybe you just need to get better at something before it starts working.
  • Small steps: Focus on one small area and improve it, before moving on to something else. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
  • Use experiments to take small steps. Test your assumptions and make decisions afterwards.

Sustain tools:

  • Get used to the highs and lows, they are normal.
  • Connection and community are important to stay sane.
  • Get used to worst-case scenarios. When you’re okay with the worst case, you can just move past certain situations.

These are just some of the insightful ideas based on the uncertainty first-aid cross you can apply to get better at dealing with uncertainty. I highly recommend reading the entire book as well, if the above tips resonated with you.

How to off-balance uncertainty with confidence

I think another important part of dealing with uncertainty is feeling safe. By feeling secure in most areas of your life, you are better able to deal with uncertain situations. Feeling secure has a lot to do with taking care of the human drivers, that Brendon Burchard talks about in his book “The Charge”. He explains the 10 human drivers that make you feel alive.

You may not know how to tackle an uncertain situation, but because you’ve proven many times in the past that you can handle things, you should trust in your past successes and realize that you will conquer this situation as well somehow.

What stood out to me in regard to uncertainty, is how he talked about control. He mentions how your level of competence translates to stability. If you’re really good at something, you have confidence in that ability. Your past experience with a task has already shown you that you are capable, you were successful in the past. This confidence should be carried into the future. You may not know how to tackle an uncertain situation, but because you’ve proven many times in the past that you can handle things, you should trust in your past successes and realize that you will conquer this situation as well somehow.

This leads me directly into the design thinking process, where the beginning of the process lies in uncertainty and ends with solutions based on research and observation.

How to handle uncertainty with the help of design thinking

The Harvard Business School describes design thinking as a problem-solving method that focuses on the people behind a problem and how they interact within that problem. Impactful solutions are built upon understanding the person affected by a problem and conclusions are draw based on research and on observing how people interact with possible solutions.

This process is not based on fixed solutions from the start. Designers go into this process with an open mind and without any idea of the final solution. The goal is to find the best solution that is based on research and observation.

By having an open mind, a “wait-and-see” attitude you protect yourself from wanting to instantly act on every new thing.

This way of problem-solving can also be applied when dealing with uncertainty. For example, if you encounter a new marketing tactic and contemplate whether to use it or not within your business, you should research it, try it out and only then make your conclusions about it.


The design thinking process you can employ, includes these four stages:

Illustration by Simona Cellar

  • Clarify: Identify the problem and determine the roadblocks that prevented a solution in the past.
  • Ideate: Come up with a variety of ideas, but don’t finalize any of them yet.
  • Develop: Multiple rounds of testing and experimenting with different ideas to find out which parts of a solution work and which don’t.
  • Implement: Many iterations lead to a successful solution.

How to handle uncertainty authentically, based on your personality

Illustration by Simona Cellar

Our personality can help us deal with uncertainty in a more authentic way. When you base your actions on your personality, it becomes much easier, almost natural, to follow them through and act authentically.

As a human being, you’ve already established a method in your own life on how you react to uncertainty, whether that might be an effective or ineffective process. As individuals we are all very different. But our personality can also help us deal with uncertainty in a more authentic way. I’m a big fan of the Myers-Briggs personality types. Ever since I know I’m an INTJ, navigating life makes much more sense. By taking their personality test, you find out your own personality, your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and more. When you base your actions on your personality, it becomes much easier, almost natural, to follow them through and act authentically.

Psychology Junkie has an entire list on how to deal with uncertainty based on your personality type. Just to give you a taste, as an INTJ Psychology Junkie explains that in uncertain times I need quiet and space to strategize and think of solutions. My naturelle is wired in a way that I pause, research options and often reverse engineer my way towards a solution. This description is very much true. I’ve often found that acting in line of my personality often benefited me the most.

Conclusion

As you can see, there isn’t one true answer to deal with uncertainty. The best solutions are the ones that are reflected and made in a calm state. If you can create and practice a process you can repeat, such as the design thinking process, you won’t have to feel stuck in indecision. And if you can act in an authentic way that aligns with your personality, it will come much more natural and easily.

Über mich

Hey, ich bin Simona, Brand Strategist und Designer. Ich helfe ehrgeizigen Kleinunternehmer:innen dabei, ihr Business zu verwandeln. Meine Leidenschaft ist es, authentische Markenauftritte zu entwerfen, die auf soliden Strategien beruhen und Dir helfen, Dich von der Masse abzuheben.

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