Starting something new? Here's how to be strategic in the face of uncertainty.

When you start something new—whether it be a nonprofit, a social venture, an initiative or a business—you face very few knowns and a sea of unknowns. Will stakeholders really value your service? What feedback will you receive once you launch? Can your idea be financially sustainable?

I’ve seen two common approaches to dealing with high uncertainty.

Some people build an elaborate multi-year plan, with detailed activities and large financial models. They hope to lower risk by playing their idea out fully and then meticulously planning activities in response to this future. Unfortunately, this approach has a fatal flaw: the more precise our prediction of the future, the more certain we can be that it will be wrong. Detailed plans, therefore, do little to reduce the risk of a new venture. It’s better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.

At the other end of the spectrum, others are paralyzed, unable to take steps forward because so little about the future is under their control. They get mired in endless research and analysis, waiting for a time when they can see the future so they can feel confident they are making the right decision or taking the right actions. Of course, with new ventures, most eventualities simply cannot be known up front.

Is there a middle way?

Fortunately, yes. Last week, I delivered a webinar for the alumni of ProInspire, in which I introduced three concepts from the strategy literature that can help leaders of new ventures be intentional and strategic about the steps they take, even when so much about even the immediate future is unknown.

The webinar introduces three key concepts:

  1. The Theory of Jobs-To-Be-Done, which can help you understand what value creation really means from a customer or beneficiary point of view.

  2. The Capabilities Driven Strategy perspective, which can help you understand your value proposition and build confidence in your “right to win,” or as I describe it in the nonprofit context: your “right to scale.”

  3. Lean Startup principles, which describe the mechanics of how to systematically turn unknowns into knowns, so you can move forward with confidence.

In the webinar, I promise to share further reading and resources on these topics. Links to these resources are below:

Nicolas Takamine