THE BLOG

Uncertainty and the Rewards of Discovery

01/15/2012 05:29 pm ET | Updated Mar 16, 2012

As an explorer most of my adult life, I began to think about exploration and explorers relative to the recent economic perils and their severe consequences for numerous organizations, institutions and individuals. While many are exhibiting panic and experiencing devastation as a result of the infringement on their carefully constructed comfort realms, explorers seem to embrace the very ramifications that cause others to cower in fear. What is it about explorers that propel them to actively seek out and productively harness risk, while the majority of individuals eschew any such uncertainty? In doing so, they dare to venture beyond the familiar. In this way, they are able to interpret events in fresh ways and pioneer new ideas, which allows for new discoveries. Explorers often return with exciting new knowledge of our planet--its lands, oceans, atmosphere as well as the space beyond. Such discoveries continue to change the way in which we view our earth as well as ourselves, offering the potential for world change. Although the uncertainties of such endeavors might be high, the rewards are potentially even greater, and the option of not doing anything, precluding new discoveries, represents the highest risk of all.

While discovery by definition has always required a willingness to confront the untried or unfamiliar, these days the volatility of global circumstances has propelled the uncertainties relating to venturing into the unknown, to new levels. Although the world has never been a certain place, the understanding that risk and uncertainty have permeated the world at large in amplified doses makes it increasingly difficult to plan for the future. How do we best position ourselves to avoid the threats that risk and uncertainty unleash as well as embrace the opportunities that such unpredictable changes can also engender?

Of course to best recognize and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, we must be as prepared as possible. In order to be able to embrace risk we must first understand and accept the challenges that accompany working in an uncertain environment. For many, risk is viewed solely as a threat, to be avoided, but to steer clear of risk also means that one eludes the opportunities that risk engenders. In the realm of risk however, uncertainty is often lurking. Like it or not, uncertainty has become a prominent mainstay of today's environment, where we are experiencing a multitude of rapidly and constantly shifting external variables, interacting in novel ways and which have proven extremely problematic to portend. Uncertainty has gained a much stronger foothold, pervading almost every aspect of the way the world operates today. As it is unlikely that uncertainty will be removed from the equation in which we currently operate anytime soon despite being a difficult component to master, we must seek ways to adapt and prevail, turning uncertainty into an advantage.

In our progressively uncertain world, there is an increased call for novel ways of thinking. Many of the lessons common to the explorer can be applied to living in today's ambiguous environment. The ability to embrace risk and uncertainty and channel these into productive actions is what leads to discovery and innovation. Whether involved in business, government, education or other realms, uncertainty is forcing us to re-evaluate our means and ways of management, content and context. Intricate organizational structures that many industries build as a means to hedge against uncertainty become less feasible when ambiguous conditions prevail. The current economic uncertainties have all but eliminated clear-cut answers and have propelled the unknown, the unexpected and the unimagined -- essentials to the explorer's toolkit -- to the forefront. To best way to harness opportunity as it may spontaneously be presented, as well as, successfully ride out any hazards or peril accompanying these, requires like the explorer, a diverse array of talents, an open mindset, flexibility and the ability to adapt to new circumstances quickly.