Understanding Uncertainty is Vital to an Entrepreneur

Pop quiz: what relationship factor is the single most common trait in the successful entrepreneur?

My answer: understanding uncertainty. Living with uncertainty


First let me say that I’m not sure. Second, that I might change my mind tomorrow. (Irony intended.) Third, that I know there are seemingly endless lists of traits of the entrepreneur, and I’m guilty of producing several (including my own top 10 list, which is one of the most popular post on this blog).

Today I’m thinking that the single most important trait of the true entrepreneur is establishing a good, healthy long-term relationship with uncertainty. As an entrepreneur, you don’t know for sure, but you act. You program, you contract, you create, you hire, you borrow, you spend, and you act, all like the explorer setting forth into unknown territory.

Planning helps. Research helps. But you have to be able to live with the educated guess.

(Image: dny3d/Shutterstock)


  • Bryan Zak says:

    Understanding Uncertainty is Vital to an Entrepreneur and knowing how to learn and a focus on continuous learning is the fuel required to understand uncertainty.


    1. Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions.”
    2. The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.
    3. Behavior grows better before it grows worse.
    4. The easy way out usually leads back in
    5. The cure can be worse than the disease
    6. Faster is slower
    7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
    8. Small changes can produce big results—but the areas of highest
    leverage are often the least obvious
    9. You can have your cake and eat it too—but not at once.
    10. Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants
    11. There is no blame

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  • Listen Up Newbies: Best Advice for First-time Entrepreneurs says:

    […] Understanding uncertainty is vital to entrepreneurs. You don’t get to know. You have to guess. Make them educated guesses, but they’re still guesses. […]

  • Viktor Bengtsson says:

    Great post!

    I also agree with the previous comments. Uncertainty becomes so much more bearable if I can have my trusty Excel-sheet with me. Robust (lots of room for change) and pliable (lots of conditional options) planning and ability to change parameters according to the day-today situation has helped me survive the frequent appearances of Lady Uncertainty.

  • Elena Patrice says:

    Being piable … to deal with those uncertainties, you need to be pliable. If you’re rigid, you’ll break or snap. Good “pop quiz” – good thing to keep in mind.

  • Scott Asai says:

    Very true. If you’re not willing to deal with uncertainty almost on a daily basis, then you shouldn’t get in the game.

  • Quentin Hydock says:

    I don’t feel that planning and research can be relegated to a merely helpful undertaking. I feel that my “educated guesses” come directly from the planning and research. The shadow of uncertainty is always there, but the planning and research, even though there may be no direct related memory of relevant information derived from the research, together with planning, which is an integral partner to research, makes the uncertainty an exciting challenge to be overcome. There is something very heady and fulfilling about facing the uncertainties of business situations and seeing your plan become a successful reality. The journey from uncertainty to success is exciting, and a challenging adventure that can be a very gratifying experience. Is this the good, healthy long term relationship you refer to? Without the research and planning business decisions become lucky guesses.

  • perry maughmer says:

    Great post and I could not agree more. The reality is that we live and work in complex adaptive systems that we cannot control but we can influence. This is an entirely different paradigm and one that requires a unique skill set that will take active development.
    Again, really loved the thought.

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