At every step in the strategic thinking process, the successful individual is asking herself the question, “What don’t I know?” In the early stages of problem solving, this question is critical to formulating a research plan. In the later stages, the decision-maker must reconcile which unknowns she can live with against those she can’t and make a decision. In most cases, it will be impossible to explore all of the unknown factors that go into a plan or a decision. The super-achiever must be comfortable with the ambiguity that remains. The best decision-makers set up contingency plans for the results of ambiguous situations.
Every plan that a strategic thinker devises has a list of unknowns. In a workgroup situation, these items are often listed along with the factors that will resolve the ambiguity. Not surprisingly, other strategic thinking factors play a large part in resolving the unknown. Having more time, more experience (or historical information), or more control often help clear the fog of the unknown. Although there will always be a set of facts that are unknown, the decision-maker must make her decision and be confident that she is prepared for all the contingencies.
For example, the chef in a restaurant is never certain exactly how many people will eat dinner in her establishment each evening. Yet, she needs to be prepared for the possibility that, if no one comes, she will need to store her perishable products for another day, and that if the number of diners is double that which she expected, she will need to send someone to the store for more supplies.