If there is one thing I’ve learned during my time working for a growth company, it’s that you have to get comfortable with uncertainty. In start-up and growth-stage land, uncertainty is a place you should actively want to inhabit.
As I write that, it strikes me how counter-intuitive this concept is to the daily rhetoric we are exposed to via our media and business peers. Uncertainty is the destroyer of stock markets, economic policies and sound decision making. Give me road-maps, requirements documents, hierarchies and the three year road-map. Most people crave certainty – it’s human after all.
And while there is some truth to the ripple effect of the downside of uncertainty in particular domains, the negative press the word has received has possibly blinded many in business to its hidden, positive traits. Especially when it comes to creatively outwitting your competition.
While uncertainty with respect to ‘what is the purpose of our company’ is negative, uncertainty at a ‘how do we get from A to B’ can be a healthy thing. Why? Because it forces you to continuously experiment and tinker with your operational model until your growth engine is humming satisfactorily. In fact, continuous innovation requires you to be completely uncertain as to whether your tinkering will make anything any better at all – that’s the point of hypothesis testing. For many people, that’s a really scary place to be. ‘I don’t know if this will work’ is a brave phrase in business.
When you move from a quasi-regulated institution to a fully-regulated institution, as we are at Tyro, plenty of headaches arise. Many fintech’s will encounter this as they move into a more banking-esque world. Lack of consistent data on your customers or systems that don’t interface smoothly is one such headache, creating unforeseen blockages in your growth engine. And, thanks to Murphy’s Law, they usually arise the day before you plan to launch something.
But when you’re still small, you don’t have the luxury of time to fix them over 3 -6 months. You need to think up creative solutions fast, some hacky, some possibly more elegant, to unblock those growth stoppers within days. And you need to have the courage to try the hacks, uncertain as you are as to their effectiveness. They will sometimes surprise you, in a good way. And that’s why I love the phrase, ‘why don’t we test it and see what happens’. Kills it in meetings every time.
People often ask me, ‘what will X look like in 3 months?’, or ‘how will the sales process for Y operate in the future?’ They ask me that because they want to build processes that are future proofed around this. I get it. But when you can’t give this to them, because you’re really discovering as you go yourself, this can be hard for many people. Especially if they are not used to ‘feeling’ their way towards a shared goal.
But if everyone can align around the fact that there are degrees of uncertainty as they collectively march towards that common goal then, as a team, you can achieve amazing things. Not only this but you’ll all somehow feed off each other and become far more open to thinking up more creative solutions to get there. This is because as a team you’re autonomously forging your own path and not following dictated directions.
I like uncertainty. I enjoy continuously being surprised by things no one ever envisaged would work. It’s like a continuous state of discovery, or a learning adventure that never really ends. I believe this mentality, when executed on at a start-up or growth-stage company is a distinct advantage. Even more so in financial services, where your opposition will for a long time to come have unavoidable tissue rejection, right throughout the organisation, to the very word.
But that means you have to choose your teams incredibly carefully. You need to place those that like the cut and thrust of the new in the parts of the engine where there is a high degree of uncertainty, and move the more stable ones to the periphery where the cogs move smoothly against each other and only need a little oiling now and then.
Simon Sinek has a great quote that sums up what I think I’m trying to get at. ‘We crave explanations for mostly everything, but innovation and progress happen when we allow ourselves to embrace uncertainty.’ Couldn’t agree more.