Hindsight Series: Embrace Uncertainty

 Here’s a 2020 hindsight; a lockdown leadership lesson I've learned during this ‘interesting’ year. Embrace uncertainty. Danish Physicist Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” I do like a physicist with a sense of humour. But it's very true, we do like to think that we are in control, that our futures are certain. We are the most insured, some would argue, over-insured people in history. We try and reduce risk, increase certainty and think that we can control our future's. Once again, there's nothing wrong with those things, but if we do not learn to embrace uncertainty, we can be left disappointed, resentful and cynical. It can also lead to a lack of resilience. Yet if we embrace uncertainty, recognise that the environment and life in general, cannot always be shaped into our desired state, we can be both realistic and resilient. This year taught me that embracing uncertainty is essential to sustainable growth, as an individual, as a leader and for our organisations.

Embracing uncertainty is another mindset paradox, I’ve been challenged by in 2020. We all want the best, the most positive outcomes, for us and those close to us, and for that matter for society in general. Yet, when we consider 2020, we can see how fragile and unpredictable our futures are. So, we need to be mindful of uncertainty, without letting it paralyse us. I have found a positive outlook creates expectation and good outcomes. Yet if we think our futures will be perfect, free from conflict, without crisis, then when we are impacted by such things, we are often unable to react in a way that allows us to overcome. Whilst positive thinking has its merits, if it is anchored in a no harm will come to me perspective, unfortunately we will be side swiped my life.

Occasionally I work with younger leaders. I love the enthusiasm and the passion of new generations. And yet I think my generation, the Baby Boomers; I maintain my claim to being the last baby boomer, have, in some ways have failed the next generations. Simon Sinek in his excellent interview about millennials said that we created a generation with low resilience. He points out that many mothers have done the homework of their children, we've told a generation they can do anything they want, just because they want to. We've created a generation that needs safe rooms and are easily triggered. In an environment like 2020 where we need to embrace uncertainty and build resilience, tragically we have not equipped millennials to thrive.

The future is uncertain; of this we can be certain. Things will go wrong. Whenever you try to seek change in an organisation the first thing you need is to ‘find a reason’. A reason to change can be created or articulated, as a point of relevance, that people can see as a need to change. One of the great things about 2020 is we have the most compelling reason to change for a generation. Organisations that have embraced this uncertainty have been able to shift their organisations not just incrementally but significantly. The number of leaders I work with, who have moved their organisations dynamically and significantly this year, is extraordinary. They have literally jumped years of evolutionary incremental change, in a few months. I saw an article yesterday that said tele-health has shifted 10 years, in six months. Never waste a good crisis as they say. Embrace uncertainty, be comfortable with the knowledge that not all things will go our way, we cannot predict the future. Whilst this can produce fear and paralysis, if we embrace uncertainty, we can be both productive and resilient.

The Kiwi Writer, Bernard Beckett sums it up well; “Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, and differences resolved.”

Even in the midst of the craziness of 2020 and with 2020 hindsight I've learned this year importance of “embracing uncertainty”.

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