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Editorial note: This article appeared in Forbes on June 13th, 2016

With technologies moving fast and new information coming in from all directions, the unknown is something we encounter more often in daily life. Sometimes we feel pressured to take action without any guidance. How can we ensure we are making the best decisions in a vacuum of certainty? The key is mastering the skill of managing the unknown.

Managing the unknown is especially crucial for business leaders. For those in such a position, one’s decisions can make a big difference to both an organization’s bottom line and to how a team is led. So how does one manage the unknown?

There’s not one answer to this question. Managing the unknown sometimes requires different strategies and tactics for different people. For instance, while one might encourage another to see the unknown as an opportunity, if the other person perceives the unknown as a risk, this encouragement may not be well-received. Thus, when approaching this topic, it is helpful to understand the different ways we each approach the unknown.

The following tips are recommendations for managing the unknown based on four different types of thinking. It is important to note that most people demonstrate different combinations of all these preferences depending on the situation.

For Big Picture/Visionary Thinkers:

Creative people see big pictures, enjoy taking risks, and learn through experimentation. To them, the unknown can be an exciting opportunity. They are easily inspired by vision but, consequently, can navigate too quickly into the territory of unknown without enough forethought.


1. Use collected data to calculate risks before jumping into a decision.

2. Use a visual guiding tool to walk through “what if” steps before making a commitment.

For Structured/Detailed-Oriented Thinkers:

Structured people enjoy using guidelines and well-planned lists. To them, the unknown is an uncomfortable situation since they come with no guidelines to follow. Therefore, experiencing the unknown triggers a feeling of losing control for these personality types.


1. Brainstorm solutions with a team in order to see alternatives and design guidelines.

2. Design a “what if” action plan in order to regain a sense of control.

For Relational Thinkers:

Relational people care deeply about the impact of their actions on others. The key question the unknown brings up for these thinkers is, “How will the unknown affect others?”


1. Discuss options with a team in order to focus on balancing emotions and logical thinking.

2. Go through a logical implementation process in order to avoid the focus of relationship impact.

For Analytical/Data-Oriented Thinkers:

Analytical people like to have data to support their positions. Anxiety of the unknown can emerge when they experience a lack of data to reference.


1. Think through ideas to gather data in order to move to action.

2. Allow time and space to think through the options and create a value proposition.

With consistent practice, these tips will help you navigating the unknown with ease. They will also strengthen your leadership to support others more effectively.





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