Thriving in Uncertainty

choices-thisway-thatway-anotherway-595x335There have been several big changes and events in my personal life recently - a big move for my family to a new home, changes in my personal relationships, my first overseas service trip coming up. As I move through these changes, I'm reminded how much a solid infrastructure helps to navigate uncertainty. During times of transition the infrastructure I set up to mitigate as much risk in uncertainty as possible - things like my support system, my goals, my values, and my team - is more heavily depended upon. After loss or major change, I think many of us look to familiar things, things that remind us who we are. Whether that's rekindling a friendship that has been neglected, listening to songs that reminisce about days gone by, or finding peace and safety in the structures that surround us.

Uncertain times are more the rule than the exception. Being a data geek, I keep data points on many aspects of my life - especially transitions when emotion runs high. By keeping data, I'm able to see how I've handled difficult changes in the past. For instance, I know that I made a solid decision the last time I moved; using that data, I can trust the current decision I'm making is solid, too. Data helps point me to my success in the past -- even when I felt like I was floundering, my data usually shows me I did just fine. Knowing how I handle change is a key part of knowing who I am and what I need.

My data also lights my way forward. Data reminds me of my goals, of my abilities, of my path to success. Even if my goals seem untenable, even when none of the data seems to indicate that I'm going to get there... I have data to show me where I want to be and what I need to do to get there. I still know where I'm going.

The same is true in our day to day work in nonprofits. As funder priorities change and government administrations shift the culture, it's sometimes easy to get caught up in the fear of uncertainty. Developing a solid infrastructure of data reminds us of our success, of our goals, of our impact. Developing a data infrastructure mitigates our risk in uncertainty - while we may not have control over policy and funding changes, we can plan ahead with good data informing our decisions. We can see trends in programs, we can reach people more effectively, we can make more educated decisions about funding paths to pursue. I wish I had a Magic 8-Ball that told me what to do next when I'm faced with a new set of unknowns, but the next best thing is a solid data infrastructure, reminding us of what we've done in the past and where we are headed.