Strategic Intelligence
3 min read

Mastering Strategy in an Uncertain World: Insights for CEOs

In today's tumultuous business environment, uncertainty is not just a passing phase but a constant presence.

Arrow Icon
May 7, 2024
Strategic Intelligence
3 min read

The recent paper, "Strategy under Uncertainty," by Carine Peeters, Brett Hamilton, and Martin Weiss, offers invaluable insights for CEOs grappling with today's unpredictable landscape. In this article, we will discuss the key takeaways and how you can turn these uncertainties into strategic opportunities.

The future belongs to those who are prepared to handle unpredictability with insight, courage, and resilience. CEOs need to transform their approach to strategy, viewing uncertainty not just as a threat to mitigate, but as a landscape rich with opportunities to be seized.

It is by mastering these strategies that leaders can ensure their organisations not only survive but thrive in the face of uncertainty.

1. Embrace uncertainty as the new normal

Vlerick's research highlights that while 73% of CEOs acknowledge the challenge of macro uncertainty, a mere 12% feel equipped to tackle it effectively.

The authors argue that the traditional strategy toolkit falls short under today's conditions, urging leaders to embrace uncertainty and integrate it into their strategic thinking.

2. Understanding uncertainty

The paper outlines a four-step process essential for managing uncertainty:

  • Identify the sources: Understand both internal and external sources of uncertainty—ranging from market dynamics to geopolitical tensions.
  • Inform strategic decision-making: Employ tools and methods suited to the level of uncertainty faced, such as scenario planning and war games, to inform better strategic decisions.

    Read: Top 5 Strategic Foresight Tools in 2024
  • Seize opportunities: Develop 'no-regret moves' that allow your organisation to act proactively without significant risks.
  • Monitor and adjust: Establish a continuous cycle to review the environment and the outcomes of decisions, making necessary adjustments.
An image of strategic foresight platform Trendtracker Trend Radar

3. The uncertainty traps and how to avoid them

The authors identify three 'uncertainty traps' that can paralyze or misdirect leaders:

  • The Contemplation Trap: Over-analysing data without ever taking action.
  • The Over-Acting Trap: Taking scattered, reactive steps without a cohesive strategy.
  • The Change-It-All Trap: Assuming no prior capabilities are relevant, leading to unnecessary overhauls.

Avoiding these traps requires a balanced approach, recognising when to gather more information and when to take decisive action.

4. Strategic moves in uncertain times

To navigate uncertainty, leaders should consider strategic responses categorised as:

  • No-Brainer Actions: Immediate steps that are clearly beneficial and low risk.
  • Safe Bets: Investments that are somewhat uncertain but can be adjusted or repurposed as needed.
  • Creating Options: Exploratory actions that preserve flexibility to scale up or pivot based on how uncertainties unfold.

In the following part, we take a look at how Netflix embraced uncertain times and seized opportunities to evolve from a DVD rental service to a streaming powerhouse.

How Netflix turned uncertainty into opportunity 

During the early 2000s, it faced an uncertain future due to the increasing demand for streaming services.

Rivals emerged, and customer preferences changed, forcing Netflix to adapt quickly.

An image of a Netflix building during sunset
Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash

To keep up with the growing popularity of online entertainment, Netflix included streaming in its business model, which paved the way for a successful future. By investing heavily in original content and expanding its streaming catalog, the company made strategic "safe bets" amidst the uncertainty.

Netflix kept refining its content strategy by taking calculated risks and learning from audience feedback, staying ahead of competitors, and anticipating changes in market trends.

These strategic approaches align with the idea of "creating options," which allowed Netflix to explore fresh possibilities and efficiently mitigate risks associated with uncertainty.

By responding strategically, Netflix successfully navigated the rapidly evolving entertainment landscape, cementing its position as a dominant player in the streaming industry.

5. Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Effective leadership under uncertainty involves fostering a culture of openness and adaptability. Engage diverse perspectives in the strategic planning process and encourage a continuous learning and questioning mindset across the organisation.


Uncertainty is not something to be feared, but rather a landscape we can navigate. It is not a problem to solve, but a playground for innovation. It is a place where we can stretch our strategic muscles, test new ideas and venture boldly into the unknown. 

As leaders, it is important for us to create a work environment that values adaptability, welcomes change, and promotes experimentation. This means being open to new ideas, continuously learning, and having the courage to question established practices.

Therefore, instead of being afraid of the unknown, we should embrace it. Because it is amidst uncertainty that we can find the greatest opportunities for growth and success.

Risk management