Project Management

Navigating in Uncertainty: A Survival Guide

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

As human beings, we haven’t evolved to like uncertainty much. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable, and the more primitive part of our brains inordinately dislikes that feeling. As a result, we often find ourselves feeling stress, anxiety, fearfulness and even anger, none of which are terribly positive places to hang out mentally.

Uncertainty is a fact of life, though. We experience it on a regular basis. The unrelenting pace of change in recent years has established uncertainty as a pretty fundamental part of the landscape. External competition, industry disruption, internal politics and dysfunction often provide a little extra spice, as well.

As I write this, the COVID-19 crisis is ravaging Europe, and extraordinary measures are beginning to take hold in North America. Every day brings an escalation in responses as municipalities, regions and countries try to formulate a reasoned and effective response to a pandemic that is growing at exponential rates. This is a scale of uncertainty that few of us are familiar with, and one with which virtually no one is comfortable.

Despite this, we are trying to operate. Companies are trying to run; the healthcare system is attempting to respond in meaningful ways; investors and economists are trying to navigate financially; and normal, everyday people are simply trying to find toilet paper, hand sanitizer and rice. There…


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"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."

- Lewis Carroll