Uncertainty and Productivity

A friend and I were talking about uncertainty and before it lurched to Heisenberg we discussed its relevance to management.

Taleb’s “Antifragile” is a nice approach to uncertainty in “a world we don’t understand” and broadens the casual use beyond vacillation or simply indecision.

But not all of us have time to read 500-odd pages of densely written prose. So here’s another take.

Uncertainty takes many forms and all of them affect how we work, how we interact with colleagues, how we cope and its impact on our performance.

These forms are:

Insufficient confidence to make our own decisions. Constantly asking others’ advice, recency bias, often resulting in misguided actions. If a manager is in this position the effects on a team are significant and much time is wasted. Further, there is a real risk to one’s reputation.

Unable to decide between two things. Often shows itself when shopping: shoes, shirts, socks, pasta or rice. But when it comes into the workplace it can cause havoc. Again, it may show as recency bias – the last idea heard is the best one – but it is a special case, restricted to the choice between two things. Faced with this type of indecision, a team will quietly shout, “just choose one!”.

Easily discouraged. Life and work are going along generally fine but the smallest delay or hindrance can cause doubt. Sometimes seen in project work when delays occur and people become discouraged. Can be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” and an indicator that other, greater, pressures exist. The key here is learning how to cope.

Insufficient strength to get through the day. Sometimes just getting through the day is an achievement. This type of uncertainty saps energy that is not there to be sapped. Team members may feel they are carrying an extra weight and the person concerned may develop a reputation for shirking responsibilities. It could be for good reasons or bad. It could simply be a survival tactic.

No calling, no passion. Highly skilled, capable and confident people who don’t really know to what they should turn their myriad skills. Often shows as people who work for the pay then go home and create wonderful side-projects, play music, paint or pursue other interests. In management it can show as rubber-stamping, a resignation to the process-driven nature of the organisation.

Do any of these strike a chord? If so, message me directly and we can set up a time to chat.

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