When four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity [VUCA]) confront us, we tend to avoid them. We avoid uncertainty in our decision making by focusing more on what we do know.
Not knowing how known factors might play out characterizes uncertainty. In Nathan Bennett’s and G. James Lemoine’s (“What VUCA Really Means for You” [Harvard Business Review, January 2014 edition]) example of a competitor’s product launch, we know the product, markets, timing, advertising and others. We’re uncertain about the outcome though.
Other examples where outcomes might be cloudy include:
- Introducing a new manager to a department
- Competing with a strong competitor for a prospect
- Revamping an existing website
- Launching a new song, book or ad campaign
Tackling uncertainty in our decision making means gearing up to secure information, interpret, communicate and address it on an extremely timely basis; and it means priming people to adapt quickly. It also means keeping resources in reserves, especially budgets, so we can address new, important information.
Until outcomes become clearer, this also means taking many quick, small steps, seeing what works then adjusting. We should expect having to make many small decisions rather than a few big decisions. From a personality perspective, it means relying upon people who are comfortable with issues regularly surfacing with ongoing injections of real-time information, sometimes conflicting.
Managerially, the biggest nemesis will be consensual decision-making processes and their well-established protocols. We address by coming to consensus on who will make what decisions before the event. Gaming exercises running through various scenarios and contingencies can help tremendously here. This is very much like traditional contingency planning minus the legalistic documentation.
Thus, when dealing with uncertainty, it helps much to work reserves and flexibility along with a regular diet of current information into our planning.
- The Four Horsemen of Apocalyptic Decision Making
- Apocalyptic Decision Making – Dealing with Volatility
- Apocalyptic Decision Making – Dealing with Uncertainty
- Dealing with Complexity
- Dealing with Ambiguity