Embrace Uncertainties – Focus, don’t Choose

Managers and leaders are making decisions, that’s just what they do, constantly. Some of these decisions are even matters of life and death. Other professionals do so too -firefighters, pilots and doctors have to make quick, critical decisions while adapting to emerging new conditions.

Many times these decision are taken in the uncertainty of having insufficient information, or meeting new circumstances. But often they are taken within human complex contexts where the dynamics of the situation is just unpredictable.

What can we do in such situations?
How can we make sure that we are using the right tools to make decisions that will progress us and help us understand better, plan better and act better? and not falling back into our comfort zones?

The Walking Dead

This comfort zone is quickly slipping away though.

Dr. Richard Claydon wrote recently about how popular TV shows are presenting us with a changing organizational culture in which – “All the strategic and tactical decision-making undermined by complex and chaotic events” over which we have no control.

This Walking Dead/Games of Thrones cultural context is very much present in the current thinking about the future of work and the transformation of organizational design. It also what makes many change efforts get stuck and mostly fail.

My suggestion is that we should embrace our own uncertainties. This means we take complexity seriously and understand that decision making is not about making the best choice, or just following best practices anymore. It’s about living with multiple best choices, which is what ambiguity is all about.

This cultural, contextual shift we are living through in our workplace, organisations, leadership and management is a shift from using a capacity to identify and chose the best option from several to the capacity to hold them all at the same time, embracing the possibilities they bring and experimenting with them.

When president Kennedy declared that the US will send a manned mission to the Moon by the end of the 1960s, he, and anyone else, were not sure how this will be done. But, he managed to focus the efforts of a whole nation and its scientific community.

Astronaut Peter Conard with the Surveyor 3. The Apollo 12 Lunar Module has landed just 200 meters away (NASA)

One of the steps to get there was to send an unmanned vehicle to the Moon, to collect the needed information for the manned landing. It was called the ‘Surveyor’ (there where 7 of them launched to the moon between 1966-1968) and when NASA was building it there was no existing information about how exactly is the Moon surface structured. So, they had to operate within complete uncertainty and experiment.

Today, we see similar visions which entail embracing uncertainties and a decision making process that will focus efforts and allow the emergence of solutions rather then make the right choices. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is gearing up to introduce commercial spaceflights that will essentially transport people to Mars by 2025.

By putting the boundaries, the constraints on an innovation and declaring a new frontier, we focus efforts without making limiting choices. Leaving room for the emerging dynamics of interactions to come up with solutions and create a new landscape of disruption. This changes our traditional decision making model from one which seeks the best answer and best path to a one that embraces uncertainties and focus efforts in a way that leaves room for dynamic experimentation and emergence.

If you enjoyed do share and comment, and if you are leading change and managing processes you might benefit from further thinking about using complexity principles to DO CHANGE BETTER. You are welcome to join. Furthermore, you are welcome to visit my website here – www.complextochange.net.



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