“The ability to not only endure but to invite, amplify, and exalt uncertainty, then reframe it as fuel is paramount to your ability to succeed as a creator. Visionary innovation and creativity cannot happen when every variable, every outcome, every permutation is known and has been tested and validated in advance. You cannot see the world differently if it’s already been seen in every possible way. You cannot solve a problem better if every solution has already been defined.” -via Jonathan Fields Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance
The brain thrives on certainty, and in uncertain times, even more so. And we are definitely entering a time of deep uncertainty. As Jonathan Fields would add from his work Uncertainty, “Disruption is the new normal. Now, more than ever, you cannot lock down the future.”
And yet, we do little to intentionally embrace the unknowns that we are facing. Instead, we do all that we can to provide a deeper sense of certainty. Instead of looking for the opportunities arising of the current chaos, we recoil to the shell of cover that we hope will insulate us from the growing complexity that surrounds us. We look for the knowns in the midst of a growing plethora of unknowns. We tend to search out predictability in the face of doubt. We heighten the value of quick solutions over the asking of bigger, deeper questions.
Inevitably, we try to predict, when we should learn to forecast.
And more and more we hear the growing chorus’ of…
“We are preparing ___________ for jobs that are yet to exist.”
Which provides us some sense of semblance, safety and understanding for this unknown and unpredictable future we are currently facing. A sentiment that makes us feel less anxious and a bit safer as the chaos and complexity of these times pushes in upon us. It allows us move forward with a “We don’t know what we don’t know” approach and attitude. Especially as we begin to realize that we are definitely working our way through very volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times.
While at the same time, the concern with leadership and organizations during these chaotic times is the tendency to become very reactive and reactionary in the midst of upheaval. Especially when the leadership or organization is neither forward facing or engaged in future thinking.
As Jonathan Fields puts forth in Uncertainty, “The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.”
But we are struggling to dance with it. We are avoiding the need to grapple with the variety of unknown forces pushing in on us as leaders and organizations. For us to eventually get to where we can have better questions, better solutions, better ideas and better creations, we have to create environments for our individuals and organizations that move us past surviving and on to thriving in these VUCA times.
Especially when the necessity of change presents itself in the midst of the chaos and complexity of our current times.
As you consider the chaos, complexity and variety of unknowns that your leadership and organizations are facing, as well as the necessity and need for change that may be required, it may be worth your while to keep your eyes on 3 very formidable I’s during the process: Innovation, Improvement, and Implementation.
- Innovation – Begin by truly determining if the change that is being initiated is necessary and needed? Is it adding value to the user? Is it worth the effort for those the change is intended to support, as well as those implementing the change, and the organization itself? Is the change going to be incremental or disruptive to the organization? Determining and understanding if the change being initiated is relevant and worth sustaining in the future is vital to commitment now and then. As the quote goes, “All improvement requires change, but not all change is an improvement.”
- Improvement – There are two sides to improvement in any change initiative. First, how will the change or innovation be an improvement to the user and the organization? Second, how will progress of the change be monitored and measured? It is in this process that it must be determined, through questions as opposed to moving too quickly to solutions, “What is the problem we are truly trying to solve?” For any improvement or change initiative to be effective, determining the real problem that the change is trying to solve must be tethered out first so that it is getting at the root of WHY the change is necessary and needed in the first place.
- Implementation – Too often our change initiatives and efforts inordinately spend time focused on “strategic” planning to make sure that the implementation is perfected before moving forward. Unfortunately, all of the “strategic” planning in the world cannot plan for every issue that occurs upon implementation, from infrastructure to resource concerns. Instead of wholesale implementation, spend time in short cycles of experimentation that allow for learning. Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) or Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA Loop) iteration processes allow for the necessary learning and or pivots needed for any change or innovation initiative to move towards full implementation in a much more effective manner, which benefits the user and the organization.
The 3I’s: Innovation, Improvement, Implementation allows individuals, leaders and organizations to engage a process around change that better supports the needs of those the change initiative or effort is aimed at benefitting. Processes that allow for greater empathy throughout the process, to make sure that the change or innovation is truly benefitting user. As well as providing a process and/or space where people can spend time grappling with and embracing the unknowns of our future, over continual amplification of the known.
As Jonathan Fields adds, “If everything is known and certain, that means it’s all been done before. And creation isn’t about repetition. Genius always starts with a question, not an answer. Eliminate the question and you eliminate the possibility of genius.”
And while the brain thrives on certainty, to engage change leaders must create environments that allow people the time, space and processes to effectively grapple with uncertainty, especially in the face of change. It is the only way that we will truly begin to create a tolerance for ambiguity in a time of VUCA.
“Whether you’re just looking to thrive in uncertain times or deliberately amplifying uncertainty in the name of creating better things and experiences, you can train your mind to not only handle the unease that comes from having to consistently act without having all the answers, but embrace and invite it as a signpost that what you’re doing matters. Rather than grasping futilely after a sense of certainty that’ll never come, learn how to dance with the unknown. It’s possible, it just takes a bit of work. Then look for the opportunity that always goes hand in hand with upheaval.” -Jonathan Fields Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance