“If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.” —Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
In 1959, “The Twilight Zone,” a TV program, debuted in the U.S. The show was built around creating an experience surrounding the unknown. The show’s actual description was “It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the ‘Twilight Zone.’”
The “pit” of our fears and the summit of our knowledge is something that continues to resonate today in the business world. We are so often faced with deep uncertainty about our future that we are sometimes driven into doing nothing. This impasse makes it difficult for us to recognize our inaction, but, rather than running from it, we should learn to embrace the uncertain. While it is human nature to be fearful of what we don’t know, it is sometimes helpful to take a deep breath, step back, and allow the circumstances to sink in.
I had the chance to visit Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, a few years ago. As I listened to the guide recount the story of what the military encountered when coming ashore, I could not imagine the horror of the unknown as the soldiers approached the beachhead. Despite the calamity, chaos and loss of life, there were still those who examined the situation, accepted what was happening, and allowed their creativity to examine what one could do to survive. So, how do we begin the journey to accept the unknown and move forward?
First and foremost, we must accept that there will always be unknowns in our future. It would be great if there were a road map to success that we could all follow and arrive at our predicted destination, but that’s not likely. The sooner we accept encountering the unexpected as a part of the journey, the sooner we can move ahead.
Second, we must treat the unknown as an opportunity to question. Leaders should question who their company is, the “why” they exist, and how not knowing everything offers an unbiased freedom to explore. Business leaders should communicate this thinking to their staff and encourage them to relinquish their fears into exploration. Yes, there are basic core needs like keeping everyone employed, ensuring profitability and keeping customers happy, but in uncertain times, those remain front and center and an integral part of the exploration.
Finally, as the leader of your organization, according to Jon Gordon, author of The Power of Positive Leadership, “it’s not just about what you can do, but what you can inspire, encourage, and empower others to do.” Those who are leaders should embody confidence to use this time of the unknown to think, create and explore. Ten years from now, there will be people who have achieved extraordinary success in every field of endeavor. While we don’t know who they will be, one thing is sure — they won’t be people who have played it safe and stuck to “business as usual.” Rather, they will be people who have continued to stretch themselves, to forge new ground despite the unknown and unpredictability it invites, and to risk failure in the process.
I brought home as a small souvenir a stone from Omaha beach, and it sits on my desk. Every day it serves as a reminder of the brave soldiers who battled the unknown on that stormy day. They had little choice but to consider the possibilities that lay ahead, not knowing for certain the future. There are so many things we can’t predict, so we must embrace the unknown — and once our path becomes clear, so does the horizon.
Bruce Weber is founder and president/CEO at Weber Group. Weber brings more than 20 years of experience to the for-profit and nonprofit community, working with startup, growth and mature organizations. His focus is in strengthening organizations through strategic planning, organizational development, leadership and board development. He is a BoardSource Certified Governance trainer and a founding partner of the Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute.
“Embrace the Unknown” is the second article in Bruce Weber’s series on Change: The Provider of Opportunity
“Execute Wisely and Strategically” (In Business Magazine October 2021)
“Making Sense of the Puzzle” (In Business Magazine August 2021)
“Embrace the Unknown” (In Business Magazine May 2021)
“Exploring the Possibilities” (In Business Magazine June 2021)