In a volatile and rapidly changing world we must learn to navigate uncertainty.  Those who do will thrive and those that don’t will have to learn how to survive.

As harsh as that may seem it is our current reality. That’s why Intrapreneurs are needed more than ever.

What does it mean to navigate uncertainty? That was a question we sought to answer many years ago when we first started working with Intrapreneurs. We defined Navigating Uncertainty as the ability to deal proactively with ambiguity, uncertainty and the unknown.  It is the ability to steer a course forward during a period or state of being uncertain.

In the article Leadership in Midst of Crisis, “73% of executives said that their ability to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty was the most important attribute of dealing with the current economic climate.”

What does it take to be proficient in navigating uncertainty? We just need to look at Intrapreneurs to understand what it takes.

Navigating Uncertainty is the one of the top six competencies exhibited by Intrapreneurs. They deal effectively with uncertainty.  It is part of what drives them, excites them and challenges them.  It is what makes them Intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneurs are pioneers, builders and change agents.  They blaze new trails, turn ideas into businesses, and seek out opportunities to stretch and grow.

Intrapreneurs embrace the unknown, they see it as a field of possibilities.  They deal with uncertainty by acting not sitting back and waiting for things to become clearer.  They don’t try to predict the future they shape the future.  They don’t wait until they have all the resources they need to proceed; they leverage what they’ve got. They don’t let structures get in their way.  They make decisions without having all the information.  They have a high tolerance for risk.  These are attributes that distinguish Intrapreneurs from others.

They do these things because they are creative, goal oriented, decisive, take initiative, good short-and long-term planners, balance data and intuition, motivated by learning, effective in instructing others, respond well to change and have a healthy ego. These are the underlying behaviors that enable Intrapreneurs to be effective at navigating uncertainty. But It is their self-confidence, motivation, experience, breadth of knowledge, tolerance for failure and risk profile that propel them to act.

Unlike more traditional workers, intrapreneurs are willing to step-up, speak-up and stick-out even in uncertain times. The question is why everyone else is not willing or able to do the same.

In her TEDx talk, How to Navigate Our Uncertain Future, Anne Rinne spoke about why we find it difficult to navigate uncertainty.  “We’re trapped in our own experience, grasping to a reality that no longer exists.” She went on to call it a state of ‘permanent impermanence’. A time when it is hard to keep up and the fact that we are less equipped than ever to deal with the pace of change. She says we are in a time of flux.

Rinne provides two key points worth noting.  One is that we are often trapped in our own past experience that no longer exists. Second, we are dealing with a permanent and accelerated pace of change.

Many of us rely on our past experience to guide us into the future. That made sense in a world that was stable but today we are faced with just the opposite.  What worked in the past may no longer work in the future. That’s one of the reasons Intrapreneurs are willing to explore the unknown. They know that we can’t solve today’s problems with solutions from the past.  The sheer complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty that we face are issues that we have not been faced with before.

Intrapreneurs understand that an organization’s past experience can get in the way and slow down progress.  That’s why Intrapreneurs use exploration and experimentation to test new ideas and create new experiences.  Experiences that inform the future, not impede its progress.

Navigating uncertainty is difficult enough without the fact that the speed of change makes it more uncertain and complex. Intrapreneurs must deal with uncertainty and the rapid pace of change at the same time.  These are two things that they do very well.  Driving change is another top competency of Intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneurs are willing to take on the toughest challenges. They look at every situation as an opportunity to grow.  They are flexible, adaptable and open to change. They see the world as it could be not as it is. Intrapreneurs create the change the hope to see, not just adapting to change but driving change through the decisions they make and the actions they take.

It is the combination of these two competences, navigating uncertainty and driving change that enable Intrapreneurs to be effective in navigating uncertainty. Together these two competencies ensure that Intrapreneurs proactively deal with uncertainty by leaning into it not bending under its weight. They do this by exploring the unknown and seeing new opportunities and then responding quickly to take advantage of those opportunities.

The key to navigating uncertainty is understanding the underlying behaviors that enable you to effectively deal with uncertainty. Here are a few of the behaviors you will need:

  • Creative – Generates new and creative ideas that defy convention.
  • Competitive – Exhibits courage and confidence when competing.
  • Decisive – Quick to make decisions based on available information.
  • Healthy Ego – Copes well with adversity and puts things in perspective.
  • Goal Oriented – Sets realistic goals that are aggressive but achievable.
  • Initiative – Anticipates the need for action and responds quickly.
  • Instructive – Effective at instructing and engaging others to take action.
  • Learning – Seeks opportunities to learn and grow from experience.
  • Planning – Balances short-term demands and longer-term needs.
  • Response to Change – Takes on new challenges with energy and drive.

Being competent at navigating uncertainty requires that you exhibit many if not all these behaviors. Only then will you be able to see what opportunities exist or emerge in these uncertain times. It’s all about getting in front of the curve.

Navigating Uncertainty is grounded in how you react in an uncertain world.

How would you rate yourself and your organization on navigating uncertainty?

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