Get Comfortable With Uncertainty

We waste a lot of time trying to make uncertain things certain. The sooner you get comfortable with uncertainty, the sooner you can focus on what really matters; creating value and succeeding now.

I recently had a conversation with a startup guy who asked this question, “How do you get individuals, startups and businesses to focus on the one valuable thing they need to focus on today?”

You have to get them comfortable with uncertainty and redefine their definition of success. You gotta get them thinking with the same objectivity as an outsider and for this, they have to detach themselves from the thing they care most about; certainty that they’ll succeed.


To be able to succeed and go all-in, you need clarity of mind. You need to be free from the fog that comes from subconsciously protecting or limiting the downside of failure. Outsiders aren’t subconsciously trying to optimise for certainty. Failure or success doesn’t affect them. You’ll know from experience, it’s easy to give someone the advice they need to sort out their lives or make a decision. But when it comes to yourself, whoah, its grey.

What outsiders have is a kind of 20/20 decision-making and prioritisation clarity that comes with the objectivity of simply not caring about outcomes. Outsiders don’t lose sleep if someone else’s company can’t make payday or fails after months/years of work. They’re detached.

In complex domains like modern life and business, the mentality of an outsider is beneficial. It is easier to make decisions on what will create value today to get you closer to your goal when your brain isn’t obsessing at the same time about the goal itself, or worse, how to limit the downside if you fail. Don’t get me wrong, fear of failure is a great motivator however ultimately, you need to go beyond it if you’re truly going to be effective.

When you’re attached to a goal and define success based on achieving the goal, it makes deciding what actions to take now to get there hard. Why? Its a lot easier to create a little bit of value everyday rather than in one big swoop. You can try but the odds are against you and I bet you’re not a fortune teller.

Move To Systems Not Goals

The problem is the first 25 years of life things are laid out for us. You’re conditioned into thinking life is just a set of goals to be achieved. First tooth. First word. First step…. You walk in to adult life thinking that all you have to do is achieve the goals of life like its some kind of board game. Career. Marriage. Mortgage. Kids. Retirement. Death.

Life is complex. You realise quickly there is no one path to success, no play book that contains a set of goals that will get you to where ever it is you think you want to go. Scott Adams – the creator of Dilbert – rights eloquently about this. He says, goals are great for simple things – like sports tournaments and breakfast but they’re rubbish for managing the uncertainty of life.

The thing is, as you journey toward an arbitrary important goal, stuff happens. You get new information and experience new things. Goals change. Other goals emerge that you realise are more valuable. If you’re chasing complex goals, you’ll forever be disappointed because rarely do you ever achieve them. Goals are binary in terms of success. You either achieve a goal or you don’t. If you’ve been working toward a promotion for 12 months and you don’t get it. Fail.

By shifting the focus and purpose of any activity from achieving a binary goal to optimising the amount of value attained on the way to the goal, everything changes.

In the case of the promotion, success for a systems orientated person would be the value created from a culmination of the new connections, new skills and new opportunities acquired and unlocked as they worked toward the promotion. If they don’t get the promotion, the value they created along the way is just as valuable as the promotion itself. It opens new paths to success.

This is what is known as a systems based approach to success. The goal itself still has its place but it is no longer the single focus for action.

Systems and Uncertainty

A systems based approach to success reduces uncertainty. You care as much about creating value day-to-day as the goal itself. Identifying and doing things that create cumulative value over shorter timeframes is easier because feedback loops are shorter. You know whether your succeeding sooner.

A systems focus let’s you put you’re ultimate goal in its place. It is simply a direction, a guiding star. You get to step into the objective outsiders shoes. You get to stop obsessing about a single goal and start focusing on developing your process for creating value along the way. The question becomes how do I create value today and not how do I achieve my goal in the future.

With the level of uncertainty reduced, you’re free. Success is no longer binary. It just so happens that by doing valuable things in pursuit of a goal, increases the chances you’ll actually get there. Win-win.