Change processes are phases of increased uncertainty. Sudden changes to one’s surroundings, ‘moving targets’, emerging resistance and project crises repeatedly make even well-considered plans obsolete. How can change managers work in such an environment?

One approach is the ‘effectuation’ model. Developing her model, Saras Sarasvathy has analyzed how expert entrepreneurs, i.e. people who often act in an uncertain environment, think as well as act and has derived the four following principles from this.

1. The Bird in Hand Principle: classic management tells us to first set goals and then go look for the required means and ways. But what are the right goals if the situation is volatile, ambiguous and uncertain? Expert entrepreneurs therefore ask themselves, “What do I have?”, “What do I know?”, “What will I make of it?” This yields first alternatives and ways.

2. The Affordable Loss Principle: many innovative projects fail because future revenue cannot be forecast reliably enough in an uncertain environment. The entrepreneurial mindset therefore follows the principle of ‘affordable loss’ leading to the question, “How much can we risk?”

3. The Lemonade Principle: we are used to seeing chance as a disrupting factor. In risk management, we attempt to address chance. In an uncertain environment, however, it plays an important role as chance leads to opportunities and teaches us what might work and what may not.

4. The Crazy Quilt Principle: especially when dealing with uncertain projects, it is often difficult to get the people (stakeholders) that you want on board. An alternative approach is to invite other parties instead of those you planned for, asking them, “Here is my project – what can you contribute?” Those who want will contribute their expertise and their means, but will then also have a say in where the journey is going.


  1. Start with a market of makers. Define the change project’s framework by defining important barriers and boundaries. In the market, initiatives that can be used to start the project will arise from a dialog between interested and motivated parties.
  2. Send out entrepreneurial ‘speed boats’ – initiatives that are sent on their way quickly as well as accompanied and evaluated continuously. Successful speed boats then turn into projects, others will be scrapped without having suffered too much of a loss.
  3. Ensure that the participants are networked. Joint evaluation, reflection and learning keep motivation high and allow the direction in which the project should go to become more concrete.