How to Succeed and Thrive in the "Never Normal"
I am of the opinion that there is no more "new normal." Instead, I believe we must accept that "never normal" is our new reality.
Historically, in the aftermath of a global crisis or in the wake of some transformative event, our day-to-day existence eventually settles into a routine that has been somewhat modified — the "new normal." But in today's environment, in which technological advancements drive rapid change and perpetual uncertainty is the only given, I am of the opinion that there is no more "new normal." Instead, I believe we must accept that "never normal" is our new reality.
Living in the "never normal" means being in a state of ambiguity, something entrepreneurs are all too familiar with. With the ups and downs and whirling winds of change that envelop most entrepreneurs, having a tolerance for ambiguity is a given.
But just because we can tolerate ambiguity doesn't mean we have to like it. In fact, research has long revealed that most humans are hard-wired to dislike ambiguity and crave stability. And in our data-centric world, where we are armed with real-time information and analytics, our thirst for certainty grows ever stronger. That's one reason why it takes a special breed to be successful at entrepreneurship, because operating effectively in a state of constant ambiguity is more important than ever in today's unpredictable business climate.
As entrepreneurs, your primary goal is to drive positive change, to lead boldly into the future — and not simply react to random surprises or competitive pressures. While we can't control the speed at which the world is changing, we can control our response to it and whether we choose to shape that inevitable change in meaningful, helpful and effective ways.
Here are a few things entrepreneurs must consider if they want to navigate the "never normal" in a calm, clear-thinking manner:
- Don't wait for perfection: This is easier said than done, of course. But you must be able to make decisions with incomplete information. While all of us are eager to apply data analytics to every situation, the continual flow of data can unleash a firehose of information that overwhelms our decision-making ability. Of course, you should have a firm grasp of your best case, worst case and weighted options. But if you wait for perfection, you'll never act, and opportunities will pass you by. Doing this will give you the logical clarity you need to drive forward, in a world clouded by too many options.
- Collaborate: One antidote to laboring over decision-making in a time of ambiguity is to get out of your silo and draw on the insights of a smart, diverse and experienced team. Tap into the collective genius of staffers, consultants, advisors and influencers you trust, and apply design thinking principles to your projects and problems. Drawing on the insights and perspectives of a close-knit, carefully chosen team helps ensure you refine and sharpen your view of each option from every relevant angle before acting on it. Doing this will result in every team member jointly owning a shared solution, among many possibilities.
- Build your resiliency muscle: You're not going to get it right the first time or every time. A core tenet of being agile in business is understanding the need to test your theories, analyze the results of those trials, and iterate accordingly. Testing is an essential component of entrepreneurship; it informs you of whether or not you have the right idea and if it will scale effectively.
One of the core practices of agile project management is the "sprint." This iterative endeavor, which is often conducted in a one to four-week period, provides the ability to test a concept or product in a tight window. Did it work? Did it fail? What must we do to tweak it? Implementing the concept of sprints to challenges you encounter will give you the ability to work in a resilient, ever-evolving framework. Doing this will help you learn important lessons and get closer to the "very best answer for now," versus a perfect answer.
Focus on the customer: It's important to not simply proceed with an idea or initiative based on what you think customers will want, but rather, based on the customer needs you uncover through experimentation, based on what they say and do. This should be the focus of those sprints I mentioned earlier.
Even with incomplete data at your disposal, you must strive to understand your customers' needs and when they have them — their "moments that matter." This requires not just data, but empathy for what your customers are experiencing and forging genuine human connections (something we're all looking for in today's fragmented environment). By focusing on the customer, their pain points and their needs, you can reduce ambiguity and turn the knowledge you have into positive change for you and for them.
Like it or not, the "never normal" has replaced the "new normal" for most of us, especially entrepreneurs seeking to capitalize on marketplace opportunities. But by embracing change as a driver of growth and focusing on the factors within your control, you will stand a much better chance of succeeding in these not-so-normal times.
Related: Why You Need to Learn to Adapt
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