THE UPSIDE OF UNCERTAINTY
We reviewed two books by Nathan Furr in a row. Our assessment of the previous one (INNOVATION CAPITAL) was somewhat harsh in retrospect.
Having read through and reflected on THE UPSIDE OF UNCERTAINTY (co-authored with Susannah Harmon Furr, an entrepreneur, designer and Nathan’s wife) I would have liked HBR to have packaged INNOVATION CAPITAL as a companion piece to the one we review presently (although it was published two years earlier). We hope you will begin to see why as you read both in the sequence we recommend.
The Upside of Uncertainty comes across as a deeply personal book that has taken birth as a result of disciplined introspection and abstraction of their own professional and life experiences dealing with waves of uncertainty in the wake of certain decisions they chose to make. The outcome of those reflections find their way into the book as a series of principles and intuitively labeled life dynamics that may be available as an aid for any individual struggling to deal with deep uncertainty in their own personal or professional lives.
The Upside of Uncertainty was also a tough one to review because in some ways it is a genre-bending book, very hard to tie down. Although one might place them in the same self as some modern self-improvement classics that came before it – Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People (first published in 1936). Robert Cialdini’s Influence (mid ’80s). Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (early ’90s). All of them shaped our thoughts and attitudes growing up.
It is partly academic in that it draws on concepts from finance, behavioral economics, mathematics, statistics and business strategy. Not surprisingly it has densely packed text comprising thoughts and material drawn from a broad swath of human knowledge well beyond these formal disciplines alone. To the extent that it required reducing print size and use narrower margins from that of a typical HBR published book (presumably) to keep the book size manageable in print form.
It is biographical. It draws almost from the experiences they (and their friends) endured moving from their academic lives at Stanford University here in the San Francisco Bay Area, all the way to a new environment in Fontainebleu. Nathan Furr earned his PhD. in strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship at Stanford University before making a decision to teach at INSEAD in France. According to his LinkedIn profile, he has for the past five years studied people who navigate uncertainty well. To find the possibilities and opportunities within the unknown, rather than to panic and retreat from risk.
It is philosophical. His experiences dealing with stressful situations takes him onto brief but interesting excursions questioning the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence the way only an academic would approach it.
It is spiritual in parts where during moments of deep despair at his uncertain situations, he draws on his interests in observing the human and soul, as a way to cope with the pain he experienced in the physical and material world.
The book was consciously constructed in a form that mimics a workbook. Brief chapters exploring each aspect of uncertainty, while keeping the explorations short and light. There is a thoughtful summary and exercises at the end of the chapters with an expectation that the reader review them as a recap of their newly gathered insights and a mechanism to retain them in their own personal muscle memories. In that sense, the book might also belong in the self-improvement section of the bookstore.
Our brains are instinctively wired so that if we stay curious, we will keep learning and growing. Fully awake and conscious individuals taking responsibility for the possibilities in their own lives.
We revisit the difference between Risk and Uncertainty. What we understand here is that risk is very different from uncertainty in a statistical sense. We learn that uncertainty is anything unknown, any ambiguous state where we may not even know what to pay attention to, let alone all the ways it could play out. Uncertainty it turns out is broader than risk, even though we have a tendency to use the two terms interchangeably.
Whether a person chose the unknown or it was forced on them, they unlocked something beyond resilience. The author focuses on this as the core subject of exploration: the upside of uncertainty.
There are natural unavoidable responses to an uncertain situation – anxiety, stress, exhaustion and confusion. Even frustration and grief. Trying to control these emotions often takes us down paths that aren’t often constructive in the long run. There are risks of not dealing with uncertainty in a structured manner. Without the right cognitive tools, we fall into mal-adaptive traps such as threat rigidity, unproductive rumination, premature certainty, and mis-invention, all of which are well explained with illustrative behaviors. Given the uncertainties our society and human race is facing (or will face soon), it is well advised to remember that predefined behaviors and mindsets that worked for yesterday’s developments will only make them overreact while preventing them from looking ahead.
The authors invite us to an arena that provides a ringside view of uncertainty playing out in real time – into the world of artists, creatives, paramedics, innovators, entrepreneurs, CEOs, Nobel Prize winners, gamblers, paramedics and contrarians.
The arenas of innovation are a fascinating spot to observe and better understand how one can learn to navigate uncertainty. Those who develop this uncertainty capability are more creative, more successful, and better able to turn uncertainty into possibility. The book delves into many coping mechanisms these people use.
Having lived in Silicon Valley for nearly three decades and loved living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been fortunate to have had observations and experiences with startup founders navigating and thriving in uncertainty, delivered to me from every aspect of this innovation ecosystem I have been fortunate to be a part of .
In order to manage the depth and breadth of their scope, the book has been organized thoughtfully into a framework. This is broken down into sections dealing with one broad area of tool, each of which are then split into individual action items. The short bite-sized chapters enable the reader to walk through them in a structured manner without getting lost in details and explorations. The authors have an honest intent to enable the reader to rise above the details and focus on the tools and action items and zero in on selected ones most relevant to their situations
Navigation is an important aspect of books such as Upside Of Uncertainty. Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr (and the great editors at Harvard Business Review Press) have to their credit delivered very thoughtfully on the all important usability aspect of the book. This is not one for display on a shelf, but rather to open and review everyday anytime one is faced with hard to navigate uncertain situations.
As a writer I was tempted to use 15 more review pages picking out individual aspects & tools of the authors’ framework and expounding on them, coloring them with my thoughts on their merits and applicability (I had originally intended to just that when I sat down to pen this book review). But as I realized this would take away the readers’ reflective moment and the fun of anticipation, the way I enjoyed reading and reflecting on them.
I invite you to read the two books in my recommended sequence and experience the same yourself.
About the author
Praas Chaudhuri is CEO & Principal Industry Analyst supporting Industrial Autonomy, Intelligent Cities and the broader Digital Transformation markets. The firm’s research scope covers most major equipment companies in industrial manufacturing, mining, process automation, as well as software, hardware, satellite imaging and other innovative technology players focused on building AI-enabled applications to support industrial use-cases. Based in Silicon Valley, Praas is a former strategy consultant with several additional stints in corporate planning & strategy roles at large manufacturing and technology companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
About ArcInsight Research
ArcInsight Research works with leading global industrial companies involved in smart city infrastructure, process equipment, control software and hardware, design, simulation, operations, optimization. It is deeply plugged into the technology ecosystem – bleeding-edge startups and the investor community.
The group was founded in 2010 by consulting firm partners and senior experienced executives with deep global experience in industrial domain research, strategy consulting, technology and and investment banking. The firm aims to equip senior industry leaders with tools and perspectives to view the bigger picture and longer term over-the-horizon opportunities, and also support their strategy with a tangible path to execution.
The strategy advisory approach offered by ArcInsight Partners is a valuable partnership opportunity for enterprises that may be either starting out on the digital transformation journey, in the midst of of transformation and looking for fresh perspectives to position themselves for a highly connected algorithm driven world.
Some of our past advisory engagements have included assisting clients –
– Validate transformation goals and its transformation journey
– Assess new target markets; Validate TAM and growth rates
– Validate drivers for new business model; Transition strategy to SaaS / Subscription models
– Design new service opportunities
– Build monetization and revenue models;
– Map in-house competencies; Sales strategy and key account coverage
– Structure appropriate partner ecosystems for effective value delivery
– Due-diligence for potential acquisition & partnership targets; Assess deal valuations