You may have seen the tweet that has been going around that reads “may the last few months of 2017 be the plot twist you have been waiting for.” When I first heard it, I laughed and thought it perfectly captured what many of us have been feeling. When we reflect on this year, many of us don’t like the plot line. We certainly could use less uncertainty and a bit more “happily ever after.”
Economists Scott Baker (from Northwestern University), Nick Bloom (Stanford), and Steven Davis (University of Chicago) have developed something they call the Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) index to measure the uncertainty that affects how businesses invest. In the US, they measure things like news content showing uncertainty, tax code provisions nearing expiration in the coming period, and disagreements among economists and forecasters. If there is great diversity among what people are saying, what people are seeing, and what people are predicting, the index shows that there is more uncertainty and research shows that uncertainty keeps businesses from investing in new hires, facilities, or equipment. In short, uncertainty keeps people waiting and watching.
But what about uncertainty on a personal level? Here are three ways that you can counter-act the effect of uncertainty to be the change we want to see.
1. Don’t wait to act
If there is policy uncertainty, leadership ambiguity, or unknown results from effort, it is human nature to sit back and wait to see how things play out. It leads to risk aversion. Leaning into ambiguity is messy and can lead to change fatigue. But waiting has huge productivity implications. Waiting not only affects your work output, but how you feel about your work. Not the one should be reckless or act foolish, but we all know that one can lean too far back in these situations and not take actions we know that in any circumstance are beneficial. There is a phrase attributed to Goethe (or an ambitious and free-wheeling translator) which reads: “What you can do, or dream you can, begin it: boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” This phrase sat above my desk for years and I think that is does have power. If you wait to do something you know to know, then that lack of forward action has long-standing ramifications.
2. Commit to investing
In times of uncertainty, a lot of energy is focused on self-protection and survival. But this is precisely the time that you need to look outside yourself and invest in others. Your teammates, colleagues, and friends are feeling the same, or possibly even more, uncertainty than you and some reassurance, encouragement, or direction from you could make all the difference in their productivity and feeling of accomplishment. Don’t neglect your role as a leader, no matter your position, in times of uncertainty. Continue to support the causes close to you. Continue to mentor others. It is precisely in times of uncertainty that others need you more than ever. Be generous with your time and expertise and all the ways you invest in your community.
Closely related to #1 and #2 above, the first casualty in times of uncertainty can be communication. You might simply not know what to say or have answers to the questions that you think people will be asking. But your lack of communication will not keep people from asking questions. They will, in fact, ask more. And human nature will fill in the answers with fear or doubt. No one ever speculates that good is going on behind closed doors. They will assume the worst. Don’t let the reality of uncertainty lead to people feeling with certainty that bad things are going on or about to play out. So, commit to communicate and then rinse and repeat until you feel you are over-communicating. It is at that point, that people might be finally hearing you.
We are in unprecedented times. The perception of political tension, both in our country and abroad, and the social divisions are running high. Our businesses face new and aggressive competition, our customers have more choices than ever, it is getting harder to find and retain key talent, and it is easy to let that uncertainty get the best of us. Stress can run rampant in these times. We are in the final months of a year which has been marked by natural disasters, human tragedies, and upheaval. There are lots of reasons for uncertainty, but also for hope.
I sincerely hope that YOU are the plot twist that we have been waiting for and that we all stop WAITING and do what we know to do, or dream to do, now.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.