Uncertainty is challenging, most of all because, when confronted with it, most people seek the one thing we won’t be able to have for a while: certainty.  A lot of us long to be back at peak performance, to hit our stride with every move, to confidently know what’s going on again.

Yet, for all the things we don’t know, there are some simple, reliable things we do, even if we too often place them on the back burner for another, more certain time in our businesses.

Think of them as the Five C’s, five uniquely human qualities that together make up not only the best toolkit for weathering uncertainty, but also the arsenal needed to get beyond it and thrive: communication, cooperation, compromise, creativity, and compassion.

But first, about that entrepreneurial brain of yours–the one that’s busy telling you right now to stop reading this and get back to fighting the seemingly unending stream of fires overwhelming our daily lives right now. While those challenges cannot be ignored, only focusing on the mechanics of your business does little to move you beyond uncertainty. Your weariness from the past few months tells you it’s true.

Try something new. It’s time to try the Five C’s, beginning with the three most foundational ones: communication, cooperation, compromise. 

Communication, Cooperation, and Compromise

Why does focusing on these three things work? They work because they enable slowing down–a pause long enough to process what’s really going on. These three C’s also involve “the many,” not just the one or the few at the top of the org chart. Sharing the responsibility of leadership and decision making allows a team to see their goals more clearly.

But more than just clarification and cooperation, I believe sharing the responsibility is also the best way forward because it often requires a combined solution–what in other times we might call a compromise. In uncertain times, blending ideas helps you move away from stubborn adherence to what used to work but no longer does.

Not only are these three C’s vital for moving through difficult times, their use builds an organizational muscle that better prepares a business to continue adapting when uncertainty waxes and wanes back and forth, as these days it seems more prone to do.


Uncertain times aren’t about getting by or simply surviving, even though they can feel that way. They are the crucible in which leaders and organizations figure out how to innovate better and create new sources of value. That’s where compassion and creativity come in.

You can fight it, but the hard truth about uncertain times is that there is no returning to what was, only going forward to what will be. It takes creative thought, not in pockets but across a culture, to be able to reinvent and respond to a changing environment.

Most organizations value creative ideas but undervalue the need to adjust systems, structures, and mindsets to embrace creativity as a norm rather than a quick fix. In short, in uncertain times, cultures must shift to be creative, which brings us to the final C.


Ultimately, cultures are made up of people. People struggle in different ways in times like these. They have different ideas about how to get through them and what they want most on the other side, too. To understand such differences–to embrace the power in diversity rather than seeing it as an inconvenience, and to figure out how to fuse it into something greater–this is where compassion comes in.

The evergreen seeds of true creativity lie in a diverse range of thinking and experience. It’s compassion that nurtures those seeds. It’s also compassion that enables communication, cooperation, and compromise to be at their strongest. 

The power in the Five C’s is interconnected. That power is also available to every organization and every person. Leadership in these times is about seeing this and creating the environment to tap that power source. One thing’s certain: Good things wait on the other side.  

This article originally appeared in the author’s Innovator’s Edge column for Inc. Magazine.