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I was raised in the traditions of Western schooling with the goal to develop a workforce for the industrial age. If I knew the answer, I was rewarded. My intelligence was measured on standardized tests and all those tests were about knowing the right answer. When I started to manage people, I was rewarded for my certainty – we had a goal and I knew how to get there. Often I had no clue and was filled with fear we would never reach that goal, but I was able to hide my fears and create this aura of knowledge.
Those days are long gone and forgotten. The construct of knowledge and predictability seems laughable when computers can cause a market meltdown, pricing Accenture down to $0.01, when we struggle to prevent a major ecological disaster, when the world is filled with black swans. Our world gets more complex by the day and any thought of certainty seems ridiculous. Information is now consumed in streams and the idea of “truth” transforms right in front of our eyes and mutates into something we have problems defining.
We have to sacrifice certainty.
Our whole belief system is based on certainty and we are defined by our positions, our explanations. In order to survive and prosper in our complex reality, we have to embrace uncertainty. Everything we believe in, everything we “know” needs to go. Time for spring cleaning. Don’t throw everything out, just store your knowledge in the garage and let it sit there. Open the doors and invite new positions in. Listen to what other people have to say, embrace the opposite position, the weird opinion, the unimaginable. We have to live Winston Churchill’s famous quote:
“True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.”
These uncertain times create spaces for invention. We need to let go of old positions and jump into the not-knowing space to discover new ways of thinking. Life goes in inevitable cycles and we need to embrace the ebb and flow to experience real happiness.
Enjoy disruptions and weirdness.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not Tony Robbins or some other life-changing guru. I feel that our need for certainty is so limiting because we don’t really listen. We’re constantly looking for confirmation of our own knowledge. Instead, we need to look for disruptions of our belief system. How beneficial is it to embrace only like-minded views? Your echo chamber gets louder and louder while the box you put yourself in fills up with sameness.
We need to look for disruptions, not similarities. What kind of world can we create when we enjoy weirdness and cherish differences? We don’t have to agree on anything. That’s fine. But every time we experience disruptions, a door opens in our mind to a world that was closed off before.
Companies have challenges embracing uncertainty, especially when business leaders continue to use the machine as the dominant metaphor. Industrial age thinking leads to massive failures since the executives have no clear feeling how their actions affect the collective action of the company. Dynamic organizations are still very rare because sameness is rewarded, certainty lauded and opposing voices pushed aside. Companies need to routinize the exercise of imagination. They need to store all their “knowledge” away and open the doors to new ideas.
Many organizations believe in a culture of fear. Fear is not a good path to creativity. It forces people to focus on incremental solutions, on safe choices. The successful managers of the future will facilitate listening, learning and imagination. And successful companies will embrace this credo: ”We are door openers. Everyone here is an explorer. How could we possibly live our lives looking at door and not open it.”