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When Uncertainty Is Par for the Course: 5 Essentials for Entrepreneurs

by Jill Foster on September 8, 2009


Core trait of good decision makers
One of the most surprising takeaways from Jonah Lehrer’s book, How We Decide, is that one of the most important characteristics of a good decision maker is the ability to sit with uncertainty.

Entrepreneurs and shades of gray
Entrepreneurs ought to see the silver lining in this, as I have witnessed no path quite as exhilaratingly uncertain as that of someone putting it all on the line to start his or her own company.

From product and business models to actions of third parties, and of course funding your business – shades of gray are simply par for the course.

(Image Shades of Gray by Webmink, Creative Commons)

So, if uncertainty is inevitable and ultimately leads to better decision making, the question becomes:

How best to thrive in the face of uncertainty?

Essentials for dealing with uncertainty
Having left the security of my former professional trajectory and graduated from the comfort of business school only to find myself completely engrossed in the world of early stage companies, developing a set of tools and practices to thrive amidst uncertainty has been absolutely essential.

1) Create structure through daily routines and personal rituals
When much is unknown, daily routines and personal rituals can provide a sense of order and control. Doing things you love, in your unique way, is a great reminder that while some things may feel out of control much of your day, time, and life is yours to create. I, for example, enjoy starting my day off with morning music, songs that give me a dose of energy and set a tone for the rest of the day. Even after I’ve pulled near-all nighters, or woken up feelings heavy under the weight of stress, I try always to greet the morning this way.

2) Act as if
Uncertain when a big deal will close? Waiting for funding to finalize? Act as if the client is already on board, the money is already in the bank. While you can’t necessarily write the checks, you can certainly comport yourself in a way that is consistent with someone who has already ‘made it.’ In doing so, you alleviate the discomfort associated with an ‘if’, and replace it was the confidence associated with a ‘when.’ True, the mindset of ‘acting as if’ is a well known tactic, but worth mentioning again because it lubricates the path [and mental attitude] between waiting and having.

3) Keep your eyes on the road, not the potholes
As resident of our nation’s capital knows, in this city even the most beautiful of streets are often speckled with potholes. Along any road, whether you choose to focus on the potholes (what’s wrong), or the tall trees, unique architecture, or kids playing in the front yard (what’s right) will entirely effect your attitude about the journey. When the destination is vague, ambiguous, or even unknown, the journey is the destination, thus making this mindset an essential difference between success and failure.

4) Surround yourself with tenacity
Identify tenacious people and surround yourself with them. Listen to speeches by others who have been along the same path, participate in their online communities or read books about them. Create a rock solid foundation built on a mountain of faith that even if you don’t know the nature of the path ahead, you know that whatever it is, you can handle it. A group of women that I meet with regularly even created a little jingle about this, and sometimes I find myself singing it multiple times a day.

5) Embrace the ambiguity
I learned this lesson in my yoga practice, but it is widely applicable. Changing from one static position to another necessitates transition, which is by its very nature ambiguous. Learning to accept this allows you to enjoy the state of uncertainty, and even approach it as an opportunity, a time to learn and grow.

More from:
Alexis Rodich and her Emerging Entrepreneur series at Women Grow Business.

Guest post by Alexis Rodich, regular guest contributor to Women Grow Business and its series The Emerging Entrepreneur. Recently featured in the Washington Post as an up-and-comer breaking down the digital divide, Alexis graduated this year from American University with a Masters in Business Administration, specializing in finance. She takes particular interest in venture capital, social technology, and how women entrepreneurs can use both to further business innovation. A 2009 LaunchBox Digital summer associate, Alexis currently directs partner relations for Bands In Town and can be reached via www.twitter.com/alexismichelle.

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