Home > The Monday Musings Column > on the myth of certainty

on the myth of certainty

A local business pundit wrote this week about the need for certainty, in the case in relation to the UK leaving the EU. I will not get into the Brexit debate here, but do want to address the question of certainty.

People often think that if you are uncertain then you are weak, but if we are in a tight spot the last thing I want is to have a leader who is certain because they will do the wrong thing.

Certainty and confidence are not the same thing and the latter does not depend on the former. People who are certain will shut out all other options; they are right and anyone who doubts them is wrong. They are effectively borderline bigots in that sense whereas a good leader will harbour doubts, but will work to reduce the level of uncertainty in the consequences of their chosen course of action.

Nothing much is certain in business other than taxation and that failure to manage cash flow will kill you. Everything else is pretty much at the whim of others snd whilst you might be sure that you have researched and planned well only an idiot is going to be certain that things will work exactly as planned.

It may be just poor use of language to use the word certainty because what business needs is to reduce the level of uncertainty to an acceptable level. This should be part of the commercial risk management process and be an integral part of the way that you work regardless of the size, scope or sector that you work in.

You will look at your targets and put in place plans for achieving them based on your experience and whatever intelligence you can glean. You will consider the consequences of the actions that you plan to take and consider the risks along with what you can do to reduce those risks, then when you have worked all of that through you should have some confidence in the outcome, but if you ever start to feel certainty creeping in then prepare to fail. Consider the expression “A dead certainty”; the dead bit is where your career may well end up.

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