Performance character

Practices | Navigate uncertainty and mitigate consequences

Two people looking up in forest.

Guide the decision-making process through observation and reflective questioning that helps to imagine and effectively respond to the possible outcomes. Allow space for meaningful action to increase the chance for desired results and reduce the risk of harm to individuals, teams, communities, and learning environments.

1. Highlights

Principled Innovation inevitably involves uncertainty, as we try to find novel approaches to complex problems and engage a wide variety of voices in the process. Principled Innovation asks us both to embrace this uncertainty as an opportunity for creative thought and to reduce the chance that there will be negative consequences to our actions.

Embrace uncertainty and let it lead to new creative possibilities

Plan for a range of possible outcomes by drawing on many sources of data

Prototype ideas to incorporate feedback and reduce unintended consequences later on

While uncertainty may be uncomfortable, rather than pushing it away or trying to quickly resolve it, Principled Innovators look for the possibilities that can open up as a result. We can think of uncertainty as a state of healthy disequilibrium which invites new data and collaborative input and which triggers open-mindedness, perspective-taking and creativity. Viewed in this way, uncertainty can result in better-informed decisions and more robust, creative solutions that take into consideration a range of potential outcomes.

To maximize the possibility that innovation will happen as intended, we investigate past precedents and analyze data, combining it with the understanding of culture, context and systems that emerges from these Civic and Intellectual practices. Building on this foundation, we are better prepared to plan for a range of possibilities and outcomes. Drawing on the Performance assets of resilience, courage, inclusivity and collaboration, Principled Innovators incorporate stakeholders’ participatory, democratic engagement into the planning process, discussing the possible futures openly with those who may be impacted by the change and seeking feedback on iterative prototyping before any large-scale implementation. And, as plans are put into motion, Principled Innovators help manage undesired outcomes and improve the final product by monitoring implementations closely and working with community members to address problems as they arise.

Woman looking through brush in forest.
Uncertainty could serve as pathway to personal and systematic growth.
Women holding arms walking in forest.
Navigating uncertainty means having the ability to change our minds when new information arises or the situation changes.

2. Context

Women holding arms walking in forest.
Navigating uncertainty means having the ability to change our minds when new information arises or the situation changes.

3. Resources

Select one of our featured resources or visit the PI toolkit library for more tools.

A library full of books

Leading in uncertain times by empowering others


  10 minutes

  By: Edutopia

Seven ways to cope with uncertainty


  10 minutes

  By: Greater Good Science Center

Prototyping ideas for change


  5 minutes

  By: REL West

Visualize and build a prototype


  120 minutes

  By: The Learning Accelerator

Access our collection of +200 learning materials

PI toolkit library

4. Connect the dots

How could this practice be enacted through the Performance assets?

Graphic illustration of creativity.


Since creative processes chart new courses, ambiguity and risk-taking are inherently part of the process. Principled Innovation requires a willingness to balance that ambiguity with our best efforts to understand what the range of possible consequences might be and consider what we will do to make sure that stakeholders remain safe in the face of failed efforts.

Graphic illustration of resilience.


Innovation necessarily involves moving into new territory where the path to success is often uncertain. Our initial efforts at change may involve multiple failures until we find a solution that works. Resilience not only helps us find our way through until we have the best plan possible, it also means having a realistic—and compassionate—perspective on our failures.

Graphic illustration of collaboration.


Inclusive collaboration broadens the base of experience and expertise upon which innovation is built. By coming together to critically reflect on our knowledge of culture, contexts, and social systems, we are better able to clarify the path forward and anticipate—and mitigate—the way our solutions might differentially impact various stakeholders.

Graphic illustration of courage.


Social innovations require taking courageous steps that may meet resistance. Yet humility can ease that process, as we become more comfortable with ambiguity and risk-taking when we can view our mistakes as the learning opportunities that drive Principled Innovation.