Certainty: it’s incredibly seductive… and profoundly dangerous.

During my years in Corporate Land, I’ve noticed something:  everyone seems to be on the hunt for certainty.  It’s like the holy grail of the business world, everyone wants to be able to say, with complete confidence ‘I am 100% sure that is what will happen with (insert specific point here)’. 

You’ve seen this yes?  I’m 100% certain they’re the right hire.  I’m 100% certain that’s the right new market to get into.  I’m 100% certain this new social media platform is the best way to attract new clients. I’m 100% certain this will be a profitable product within 12 months.

It’s so seductive isn’t it?  That rush of pride and achievement we feel when we can look someone in the face and say ‘I know for certain that is true’.

Here’s the problem though:  that’s just not the world we live in.  We live in a world of constant disruption, innovation and information.

So why does this matter?  Because certainty is profoundly counterproductive to all of the things we are craving in our work today

  • Innovation & Creativity:  When we run with the first idea... odds are it's not going to go well. We need to have an open mind, to not stop at one, to be uncertain enough that we produce 100 ideas... and yes the best idea may be 1... but it may be number 47.
  • Retention & Employee Engagement:  In today's workplace people are craving a space where mistakes and learning are not only tolerated but actively encouraged.  A space where they get to look at their boss and say ‘I don’t know’, and instead of being punished are lauded for honesty.  We're starving for places like this, places to be ourselves, learn and experiment
  • Learning:  When someone asks 'oh you've heard of this new TED talk right?  And you get all awkward and jittery and say 'oh sure, yeah I have'... you've now missed an opportunity to find out about something new and interesting.  Damn. 
  • Inspiring Leadership:  The most amazing leaders I’ve ever worked with or follow from a distance are all very comfortable saying ‘I don’t know, it’s a great question and I don’t have an answer’.  These are people we trust, that we follow and will work our asses off for.  Because we trust that when they tell us something, they aren't just bullshitting us.  And we trust that they'll consult us and involve us.  Besides, the Dalai Lama is comfortable saying I don’t know.  If he can say it, surely it’s something for us all to strive for??

Think about it, really reflect:  what stops you from saying ‘I don’t know’?  Because it’s not courage, it’s not confidence and it’s not experience. 

It’s shame.  It’s gremlins.  It’s social pressure that keeps you from being your genuine awesome self.  It’s that voice in your head that says ‘you’re just not good enough’.  

Time to get super conscious of when you're feeling that seductive pull of certainty, when you just can't say 'I Don't Know' and start working on your shit my friend!


Here’s some mini-practices to help you step away from certainty this week:

1. Beginner’s Mind

For every decision you have to make, come up with at least 3 alternatives.  If you end up choosing the original choice, great, but come up with the list first.  And yes, this can be as simple as ‘which route will I take to work today’!

2. Fact Check Yourself

Is it true?  Can you be 100% certain it’s true.  Take a page from Byron Katie’s book and for every belief that you catch yourself with today, just check in – is it really true?  What else could be true?

3. Phone a Devil’s Advocate Friend

Find that person you trust.  Ask them to jam with you and consciously play devil’s advocate for you with whatever belief about your work you are playing with at the moment.  Have them come up with at least 3 alternative stories that might also be true.


Look I get it, this might not seem like a top priority – but trust me.  Certainty can be a death knell to creativity, innovation, client satisfaction, employee engagement, and most worrying, leadership.  

You gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself mate!

If you’re struggling with the Certainty Gremlins and need some support, get in touch and we’ll have a free Jam Session!