Embrace the lack of certainty in business, life

By JJ Rosen September 14, 2021
photo: woman experiencing uncertainty in business future

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

We’ve hit a global gray area, and it’s uncomfortable.

Last September, life was weird. With the pandemic in full swing, everyone was working from home, kids were Zooming their classes, restaurants were take-out only, and it was OK to watch Netflix every single day.

The situation wasn’t good, but at least we knew where things stood.

With the initial rollout of the vaccine, life slowly started down a path to normalcy.  Traffic began to pick up as offices re-opened, the airport began to buzz with people resuming their traditional summer vacations, and it was OK to meet a colleague out for coffee. It felt as if the coronavirus were on its last legs — there was a feeling of celebration that the pandemic would soon be over.

But as summer has wound down, things have gotten more confusing. With rising counts, variants and breakthrough infections, nothing is clear. It feels as though we are all stuck in the middle between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic routines.

Living in a gray area is never easy.

As a techie, I am used to bits and bytes being either on or off. When a software application or computer system fails, there is always a rational reason and logical remedy. It’s not always easy to fix a tech issue, but through the process of troubleshooting, the day-to-day life of a techie can be well-defined.

But in business, it’s the exact opposite. Nothing is black or white.

Even in non-pandemic times, most business decisions are clouded with subjectivity.  Rarely if ever does anyone know for sure whether an idea will succeed or fail, whether sales will shrink or grow, or whether factors completely beyond their control will help or hurt their company.

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This is what makes business so hard.

And with all of us stuck in pandemic-best-practice limbo, the few decisions that used to be easy are now cloudier than ever.

Work from home or work from the office? Meet for lunch or do a Zoom? Shake hands or bump elbows? Expand now or cut expenses? No one quite knows.

When we first started our IT consulting firm years ago, as pure techies with no business experience, this “don’t know what you don’t know” factor would drive me crazy.

Will we grow if we spend more money on advertising? No one was quite sure. What is the best benefits package for our employees? It just depends. Should we outsource our accounting? There are pros and cons.

But over time, I not only got used to it, but also began to embrace the lack of certainty in business as a challenge that made life interesting. In the gray world of managing a company, I learned a few things along the way to reduce my stress:

  • No matter how many processes and procedures you put in place to make outcomes more certain, just accept that Murphy’s Law — what can go wrong will go wrong — will undoubtedly rear its head every so often.
  • You can’t totally eliminate the gray, but you can reduce it by using data to help you make better business decisions.
  • Implementing proven best practices does not guarantee success, but it can help put the odds in your favor.

So, during this confusing time where we are all trying to navigate the uncertainty around everyday life, I am trying to apply the lessons I have learned in business to guide me. It may take a bit, but one day these gray times will go away. In the meantime, though, I’ll keep holding on to my masks, fist-bumps and Netflix queue just in case the rainbow of “normal life” isn’t right around the corner.

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JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville software development and IT consulting firm. Visit www.atiba.com for more info.

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