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Uncertain about uncertainty

Uncertain about uncertainty

By In ambiguity leader, dr lily kelly-radford, dr. randall p. white, dr. sandra l. shullman, . . . On December 21, 2010


We’re finishing up a busy year, as harsher than usual winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere demonstrates that even the Internet can’t dig business out of a snow bank. Nature is still a significant contributor to the ambiguity we face as executives and leaders.

Fortunately, we’ve managed to stay a few steps ahead of bad weather and made it to all engagements in Paris and the United Arab Emirates in the past few weeks.

When we’re back in the States, if you believe our newspapers of record, business seems to be hanging on what the current president will do next and, even more vexing, who will be the president after 2012. Americans have lightened up a bit since the mid-term elections, but in our anecdotal comparisons, we’re still the world’s worriers. Embracing uncertainty—will I have a job, will my flight happen, will I have to take a pay cut—can be frustrating if not harrowing. We think this is why Americans are in such a funk.

In the rest of the world, people are upbeat. They don’t seem to care about who is running government. As we’ve mentioned before, in the emerging markets where we teach, things are now relatively MORE stable and certain than ever before. Chinese executives are noticeably happy. That’s just a hunch. And as a counter-point, we’ll offer John D. Hansen, et al, writing in the Journal of Business Venturing, who inform us that:

Americans SMEs are more willing to deal with the risks associated with making investments in projects that have uncertain outcomes or unusually high profits and losses…the risk-taking dimension of EO (entrepreneurial orientation) addresses a willingness to accept and even create ambiguity, particularly the ambiguity associated with engaging in high-risk projects. The finding that American SMEs are significantly more willing to take risks when compared to SMEs from all other countries seems logical based on the fact that the U.S. ranks lowest in terms of uncertainty avoidance (Americans are more tolerant of ambiguous future returns).

Okay, so maybe we don’t try to avoid uncertainty. But on average, we’re not so happy about it.


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