The Certainty Trap

Many organizations are aimed at certainty.
And reliability. And predictability.

We call this The Certainty Trap.
Because this mindset is one of the biggest obstacles for innovation.

And it inhibits change.

Should you care?
Yes, you should.

Because you simply cannot ignore change. 
Shift happens.

The system

In many ‘traditional’ organizations, everything is aimed at certainty, reliability and predictability. We have an urge and desire for certainty. We feel uncomfortable with doubt, ambiguity, ‘maybe’ and ‘opportunities’. We have a tendency to control it all; to reduce uncertainty: nothing should go wrong, we don’t want to make any mistakes and we don’t like risks (see our blog about the fear of failure). Owh, and we want proof. To be certain.

This urge for certainty and predictability is one of the biggest obstacles of innovation and change. New possibilities are almost the opposite of certainty; they always bring uncertainty, risk and stress. And because we feel uncomfortable with uncertainty, we prefer to continue what we always do – until we actually forced to change.

Thereby, with new things you have no guarantee that it works, no one can prove in advance whether it is valuable or useful. You may want to know in advance whether an idea will work, but with real innovational stuff, you simply can not know. So, what happens is that many new opportunities are discarded in advance, because it is it difficult to measure. Difficult to proof. But there simply is no innovation without uncertainty. 

We love innovation, but only if we can control it and nothing changes. And in an uncertain world and in times of pressure the urge for certainty is reinforced. When we get the feeling of losing control, the response is often: trying to get more grip and return to the safe zone, to what is known. Therefore it is not surprising that many organizations are more focused on exploitation than on exploration. Their goal is not to excel in innovation, but to protect the organization*. Organizations are talking a lot about how important it is to innovate. But meanwhile everyone is paid to maintain the status quo.

Why should you care?

With this mindset you are not able to innovate or adapt and respond to changes. This wouldn’t be a problem if the world wasn’t changing, but let’s face it: nothing keeps its status quo. Organizations are in a constant state of flow. As some great thinkers say: the only certainty is change. Or: change is the only constant thing in life. You just can not assume that what is good today, tomorrow still rocks. Our rapidly changing world is simply unpredictable. And certainty is an illusion (here’s a nice blog about this).We just cannot predict and and we cannot know (we wrote about this before; the pitfalls of planning). But there is no choice: we need to cope with change and innovation to survive in this fast changing world. As Darwin said:

It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, 
nor the most intelligent, 
but the one most responsive to change.

Unscrew the system

So, every organization need to keep up (at least), innovate and change. You need to be able to change quickly enough, to innovate, to reinvent yourself and adapt to new situations. The world is constantly changing and is always full of uncertainties and unpredictability. That means moving from managing and controlling, to dealing with continuous change.

To make this happen, we need to enrich our ways of thinking and acting, and learn to deal with uncertainty, unpredictability and unreliability. We could easily say things like “embrace it all”, but this isn’t easy because of our ‘control’ mindset. We have to learn to embrace it.

That starts with learning to:

  • develop a tolerance for ambiguity
  • live with (some) uncertainty
  • adapt and change, by acting like a living mechanism – continuously adapting to the changing world. (Call it whatever you want: adaptive, flexible, pliable or agile. We call this B Adaptive, it’s one of het Plan B zones, we’ll write about this later)
  • let go of the fear of failure and the requirement for proof
  • try and experiment (we call this B Experimental)
  • be brave (we love this one, it’s one of our principles).

You know why.
Just because: shift happens.

richard-branson-screw-it-just-do-it

 

 

 

 

 

 

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* If you want to know more about this subject, we recommend the book of Roger Martin. The design of business. Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Harvard Business Press (first one on this list).

 

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