XVIII. Uncertainty is not a peril, but a lottery ticket

How to make uncertainty a driver instead of a blocker.
Dr. Albert Künstler

ommon folks fear and avoid uncertainty — but not explorers. For most people, uncertainty brings risk and insecurity. Insecurity leads to anxiety. And anxiety leads to procrastination.

Researchers, on the contrary, have some kind of innate quality that, when faced with incomprehensibility, gives rise to a curiosity that drives them to act.

For a true explorer, and I hope for you as well, uncertainty is nothing but a lottery ticket. It’s not free, you have to sweat. Winning is not assured, and you may have to sweat a lot. However, with any lottery ticket there is a chance of an amazing discovery.

You may understand the average person who complains about their fate and too many uncertainties, but have you seen someone who complains that they have too many lottery tickets?

In the previous part of the book, the heroes were assigned on the Quest, but not everything in their mission was clear and certain. In this part of the story, we will learn how to make Uncertainty your friend and convert your lottery tickets into opportunities for future discoveries.

I don’t know… Wait, I identified an uncertainty!

Every time you or someone on your team says “I don’t know…”, it is a wonderful thing. Start loving these moments. You identified the uncertainty and the blocker where 98% of people will back down and do nothing. This is to your advantage. Your team knows what to do and will go where no one has gone before.

Uncertainty? Write it down!

Once you have identified uncertainty, do not leave it to hover like a vague phantom inside your head. It will devour your energy and cause desperation and anxiety. Instead, write it down! Create an uncertainty ticket — many of them. But do this in written form, outside of your head. In a lottery box, perhaps! Believe it or not, it’s fun!

Tool: Wheel of Uncertainty

Best for: Defining an action for an identified uncertainty

Required time: 5 minutes

Main result: Action item for each uncertainty ticket

Uncertainties may come from different sources. It could be an unanswered question, an “I don’t know…” from a business customer, or it may arise once you start a new task and understand that something is missing. No problem, write it down and carry on.

Wheel of Uncertainty

When you have uncertainty tickets that block your path and must be solved, there are three main possible actions: you can ask, explore, or equip for this uncertainty.

Uncertainty can relate to the past, something that has happened already but you are not aware of, or it can relate to the future — something that can happen with one or another probability.

For uncertainties of the past, the natural next step is to go and find out.

Wheel of Uncertainty: 6 simple but certain actions to choose from.

Ask: Interview your customers

You should start by simply asking business customers about the unresolved question. We have already conducted interviews — so nothing special, just form an additional list of open questions and ask them at the next occasion.

Ask: Refer to an expert

If customers do not have this information, the alternative action is to seek an expert opinion. Make friends with knowledgeable people and don’t hesitate to ask them for advice.

Explore: Collect evidence

Finally, you can plan a deeper study and gather information that removes uncertainty.

Uncertainties of the future require a proactive approach.

Explore: Make an assumption

Any researcher should have bravery to make assumptions and then confirm hypotheses. We remember the Level Up technique, so you have a whole range of actions regarding your uncertainty. Placeholder: Just make a guess. Quick & Dirty: Propose an educated assumption. Good Enough: Prepare a hypothesis and validate it with a series of tests, State of the Art: Develop and prove a theory for all sorts of similar cases. As a rule, you can start with guessing and making assumptions, but do not forget to level up further during the course of the quest.

Equip: Follow best practice

Another great recipe for the uncertainties of the future is to stick to common best practice for this particular issue. These practices have been forged through past failures and have endured test if time, so in a n uncertain situation it may be a good idea to follow the proven path. If you are not familiar with best practice for your case — go find out (ask or explore!). As we know, not always following the commonly accepted way is the best choice in the labyrinth, just remember it is one of options, so choose it wisely.

Equip: Prepare a reaction plan

Sometimes uncertainties do bring threats and the possibility of unwanted events. The rule here is to proactively see these coming and prepare a reaction plan. Even the most unfortunate outcome can be dealt with appropriately when you are well-equipped.

These are six simple tactics that will help you nail down the doubts when someone says “I don’t know…”, “I am not sure…”, “I don’t want to take responsibility…”, and so on. It is your job as an explorer to deal with uncertainty and to have a full spectrum of certain actions that can be chosen.

This can work even better in a team, where you are not left alone with your uncertainties, but several explorers come together to set up a Lottery session, discuss their uncertainty tickets, and for each of those decide on one of six actions that fulfill their research backlog.

Don’t let uncertainty stun you, instead make it stir you up.