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Start-ups in a new uncertain world: How to master speed, change and uncertainty

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Mar 5, 2012

Fast-paced, rapidly changing, and highly uncertain are few words that more relevantly define our modern life. Here speed is overwhelming. Changes are breathtaking. Uncertainty is mountain high.

However, none of above we like. Neither we can easily brick up with any of above situations. However, reality is that you have to cope, live and succeed. Generally, we hate uncertainty, we lose efficiency in speed and we resist changes. The most acceptable reasoning behind this kind of behavior could be-one, ignorance, two, curse of knowledge. Ignorance ignites fear where knowledge stir up rejection. We seldom try to do what we don't know, one of the major reason behind this is fear of making mistake. We dislike making mistakes and we think attempting something unknown is more likely to doing mistake. On other hand, knowledge sometimes work as barrier. We reject others ideas when we believe ours is more accurate.

But things have changed a lot and we have left with no other choices but to live with all these disgusting changes. Living is not enough in this world but effective and efficient living. So, what can we do?

Recently, a fantastic book has been written on all above issues by McGrath and MacMillan named by The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Strategies for Continuously Creating Opportunity in an Age of Uncertainty. The specialty of this book is that it'll not only make you aware of changes and new kind of living but will also provide a checklist and direction on how to live in this new world.

To find applicable ways to solve the problems we are facing I'm going to bring some relevant quotations on way forward from the book.

Let's start from the beginning. Fast. What can we do? To tackle this fast and speedy world a company must effectively allocate both physical assets and personnel resources. As the authors note, a software engineer, working on a six-month project, who is given three more, similar projects, takes two years to complete all four projects. And, in businesses where speed to market is a key success factor, there is a world of difference between completing a project in six months versus two years. In two years, you probably will have missed the market entirely, and all work on all projects might well have been in vain. McGrath and MacMillan profoundly observe: "Trying to achieve perfection is a mistake because the translation from what your business has to offer to what the customer wants or needs can never be perfect."

Change. Adaptation is the only answer to change. Don't be resistive. We hate change but it's the most pervasive issue of human life. In hindsight if we dig deep why we dislike change the only answer is ignorance. We keep ourselves protective from the things, situations we do not know. Above all else, we dislike to come out of our comfort zone whereas change means divorcing your comfort zone. But where change become the issue of survival there accepting and mastering change become the top competitive strength and we left with no choice but to live with change as efficiently and effectively as we can. As we have to live with changes we better know how we can better live with change.
Know thyself. Knowledge is critical. The steppingstone of mastering change begins with knowing what change about is. Prior of building a change resistiveness learn, study and work on it. Know what it is, how it works, what are bad and good of it.

Uncertainty. There is nothing like calculative risk because your knowledge about anything is always on test and things are fast changing by making everything uncertain. I have a deep feeling of uncertainty. It is that, I always feel pathetic of thinking that, what will happen if total Internet system collapse which is quiet possible. What will happen? Can anyone imagine? So, anything happen. All cumulated knowledge will be collapsed. All systems developed with great tending will be lost. It does not mean that you will avoid using Internet from today. Life is just a long walk of uncertainty. You, anyone can die very next minute and everybody knows that though nobody cares. We keep going after knowing that life is uncertain.

"In a world of uncertainty, our guiding philosophy is: Take Charge. If nobody knows what the future will hold, your vision of how to navigate it is as good as anyone's. The future may as well belong to you," write McGrath and MacMillan in The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Strategies for Continuously Creating Opportunity in an Age of Uncertainty.

Creating checklist is not a mere useless habits but a mandatory for startups. Entrepreneurs often design "opportunity portfolios." Each opportunity is pursued or abandoned as per situation ask. The goal is to learn as you go and effectively transform presumptions to knowledge at a low cost that ultimately reduce uncertainty. For example, via Stepping-Stone Options, McGrath and MacMillan say, "You start with small, exploratory forays into less challenging market niches and use the experiences gained there as steppingstones to build competencies in increasingly challenging and attractive market arenas that you discover as you go."


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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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