Uncertainty Is Not The Same Thing As Risk

At Beacon, we are big fans of Seth Godin, a marketing genius and prolific author and blogger. While Seth usually speaks the lingo of creative and marketing folks, his message resonates remarkably well with the rest of us. Take for instance the following recent post entitled Uncertainty is not the same thing as risk:

“Often, the most important work we do doesn’t bring a guaranteed, specific result. Usually, the result of any given action on our part is unknown.

Uncertainty implies a range of possible outcomes.

But a range of results, all uncertain, does not mean you are exposing yourself to risk. It merely means you’re exposing yourself to an outcome you didn’t have a chance to fall in love with in advance.

A simple example: the typical high school student applying to a range of colleges has very little risk of getting in nowhere. Apply to enough schools that match what you have to offer, and the odds are high indeed you’ll get in somewhere. Low risk but a very high uncertainty about which college or colleges will say yes.

That’s not risky. That’s uncertain. It takes fortitude to live with a future that’s not clearly imagined, but it’s no reason not to apply.

Another example: If you speak to 100 people, it’s uncertain which 40 people will be impacted by what you say. But the risk that you will resonate with no one is small indeed.

The question to ask every organization, manager, artist or yourself is, “are you hesitating because you’re not sure the future will match your specific vision, or is there truly a project-endangering risk here?”

A portfolio of uncertain outcomes is very different from a large risk.”

Seth’s message in the larger context of life speaks so well to the glorious uncertainty ahead of us. The question we each face as we consider our futures is: do we fear the uncertainty that lies ahead as crippling risk, or do we embrace the wonder and excitement of the possibilities ahead? Søren Kierkegaard, a Christian philosopher and theologian of the 1800’s, observed that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

No amount of wishing or hoping will allow us to re-live the stories we’ve already written. It is best to understand and learn from our past and, as Kierkegaard wisely directs us, ‘live forwards,’ into the uncertain possibilities. We love being in the business of looking and living forward with our clients, providing them the tools and methodology that enables them to confidently navigate the outcomes that will surely buffet and propel their chosen plans and purposes.