Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What Is the Upside of Uncertainty?

A new book lays out a roadmap to move from panic to possibility.

Key points

  • There is a difference between risk and uncertainty.
  • Reframing situations can help us navigate rough waters.
  • Transilience refers to leaping forward with resilience.
  • Balancing uncertainty with stability is key.
Liza Summer/Pexels
Source: Liza Summer/Pexels

Boiling temperatures, gyrating markets, rising inflation, an ongoing pandemic: The list of uncertainty could send us all into a panic if we let it. Never in our lives have we faced so many crises at once. It would appear all is lost. Or is it?

Enter Nathan and Susannah Furr, co-authors of a new book, The Upside of Uncertainty, a magnificent guide to seeing possibility in uncertainty instead of powerlessness. It is not a Pollyannish view of the world but rather a new way of viewing and managing the dynamic environment in which we reside.

The book is imbued with Nathan’s experience as an expert in the fields of innovation and technology strategy, coupled with Susannah’s entrepreneurial expertise. Risk, Nathan says, is a set of variables with a probable outcome, such as rolling the dice. Uncertainty, on the other hand, has none of those qualities as we cannot predict what will happen at all.

“I see uncertainty as a beautiful thing,” Nathan said in a recent interview. “Without uncertainty, we could calculate things into a predictable, deterministic world.” Especially in start-up culture, innovation is born not only out of risk but also out of the uncertainty and the magic that can prevail from trying something new.

“Uncertainty can be cool, such as moving, having a baby, or landing a new job,” Susannah told me. Planned uncertainty gives us a sense of adventure and perhaps a feeling of control that we purposely thrust ourselves into the deep end of life. But things such as the pandemic, over which we have little perceived control, bring with them a sense of anxiety. Whether it is planned or unplanned uncertainty, the tools the duo set out in their book still work. “Uncertainty is uncertainty, whether we want it or not,” Susannah stated. “But the same tools apply.”

A question of reframing

When faced with a turn of unplanned events, we often ask ourselves if we will be able to handle what is coming our way. When we reframe the situation, we are able to look at our challenges from a completely new angle of possibility. For instance, if you lose your job, it opens up new avenues for you to step into something different. “When you reframe uncertainty as possibility, your ability to navigate it increases because your experience shifts from the fear of loss to the anticipation of gain.” (page 12, The Upside of Uncertainty)

At the end of each chapter, the authors offer questions for reflection and doable tasks to exercise our reframing muscles.

The power of transilience

While resilience refers to being able to get up when you’re knocked down, transilience is a term the authors use to describe leaping from one state to another. “It’s that moment when metal that is hard and cold becomes molten. It is beyond resilience,” said Susannah. That motion forward implies we are growing at every moment, stepping into the possibility that is our lives.

So how do we embrace a transilient mindset? One tool is what the authors call “regret minimization.”

Minimizing regret

In an interview with Jeff Bezos, Nathan revealed his thought process for launching a website that would sell books on the Internet. Mind you, this was back in 1995 when most people had only tangentially heard of such a thing. At the time, Jeff was working at the largest quantitative hedge fund in the world. When he approached his boss with the idea, he said, “No.” So Jeff was faced with asking himself if he would regret trying and succeeding. Certainly not. But what if he failed? He wouldn’t mind that either. As a result, he left his highly lucrative position and his bonus behind to start what has made him one of the richest men in the world: Amazon.

As a professor for strategy and innovation at INSEAD in Paris, Nathan advises his students to take on two projects. One should be riskier than the other to ensure the focus does not lie on the riskier one for too long. It is about balancing out the uncertainty with stability. The so-called “uncertainty balancers,” such as a community of like-minded people, ensure we remain strong and grounded when the going gets tough in other areas of our lives.

Three key elements to navigating uncertainty

It is easy to get overwhelmed by our collective anxiety. Three key elements can help us navigate moments of uncertainty.

  1. Emotional hygiene is of utmost importance when facing a crisis. Those emotional wounds we carry with us need to be cleaned. Tending to ourselves, ensuring we eat well, and getting enough rest and fresh air are essential.
  2. Frustration management helps us frame what is truly happening.
  3. Be open to magic unfolding. Celebrate those moments of serendipity, such as when a friend you’ve just been thinking about calls.

Surrender more, and you will suffer less. Allow yourself to feel the feelings. The less you resist, the less they persist.

The book clearly lays out the importance of mindset. In this day and age in which mental health crises top the list of factors impacting our modern world, a book that helps us navigate these waters is a much-needed light in the fog.

More from Christine Louise Hohlbaum
More from Psychology Today
More from Christine Louise Hohlbaum
More from Psychology Today