Not Knowing

The pressure on CEO’s and business owners to know the answer in any given situation can be quite debilitating on their ability to lead.

If we are focused on the notion that in order to move our business forward, we must rely on our existing knowledge, then our future depends on how we have done things previously. The question then is: how does this thinking limit us?

We must know the answer based on knowing how we addressed the situation the last time it occurred, in whatever context. In an increasingly more complex and uncertain world, how can we move forward by looking backwards? The future thus scares us!

Our ability to cope with “not knowing” changes at the various levels of adult development. The perception that the struggle for answers and the accumulation of knowledge is all that matters is indicative of a lower level of thinking complexity. If you feel that in order to overcome adversity, you must implement the strategies of the past, then you are making the mistake that a complex problem today is only “complicated“, and thus your solution will be clear, simple and wrong.

The Adaptive Leadership faculty at Harvard, Marty Linksy and Ronald Heifetz argue that misdiagnosing the complex (adaptive) elements of a challenge as complicated (technical) is a key failure in Leadership. Is this happening in your business? We are trained to  think technically and thus miss the adaptive. We are tempted to look for the easy answer.

At the higher levels, one embraces ‘not knowing’ as the frame in which we develop and grow. Entrepreneurs want to make things ‘better’. It’s not about reward and recognition given by others, necessarily. It’s about making things better as judged by themselves.

In order to cope with the complexities of the future needs of your business, one must first increase one’s capacity for complex thinking, and remove the misconceived certainty of “how we did it before”, as it seldom applies to the ambiguous world in which businesses evolve.

To move forward, we must embrace the ‘not knowing’ of business and allow this frame to motivate us to grow ourselves, our thinking and our business. Without it, we are rehashing the potential failures of the past and lazily applying them to the future.

Without it, we are thinking at the lower levels of complexity, and not growing our thinking in order to grow our business!