Whilst at a meeting in a coffee house yesterday, the discussion was interrupted by a person on an adjacent table dropping a mug of coffee on the floor. I was in full flow and fully expected that I’d be able to continue my narrative and make some points. But it wasn’t to be and I had to adjust to a new situation. 

By coincidence, my guest and I were discussing the concept of uncertainty. He mentioned a review of Oliver Burkeman’s book “The Antidote”, from which the following quotation is cited:

Burkeman writes: “What motivates our investment in goals and planning for the future, much of the time, is not any sober recognition of the virtues of preparation and looking ahead. Rather, it’s something much more emotional: how deeply uncomfortable we are made by feelings of uncertainty. Faced with the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds, we invest ever more fiercely in our preferred vision of that future — not because it will help us achieve it, but because it helps rid us of feelings of uncertainty in the present”.

This is something I’ve observed all of my business life. Executives struggle with the anxiety of uncertainty and create plans and models that, although not seen that way, are in fact devices for the relief of that anxiety, as Burkeman implies. The problem is that in rigidly holding on to visions and plans, high levels of stress are created and disillusionment sets in throughout the Company. Staff  resign themselves to and become frustrated by the fact that leaders have got it wrong but are unbending in their determination to make the plan work. This rigid, “The Lady’s Not For Turning” attitude is destructive and riddled with the emotionally insecure view that a change in direction is a weakness. 

All of this poses the following question: Instead of trying to second-guess and fix the future, should we not really accustom ourselves to the idea of accepting uncertainty and creating our strategies around that? If uncertainty principles exist in Quantum Theory, surely we can use uncertainty to our advantage in business. Ideas about the future cannot be real and any facts upon which future trends are based arise from facts which are already out of date. Forecasts of all kinds are flawed by the fact that human behaviour and natural events are in the main unpredictable. I’m not saying that planning and forecasting has no value, just that we need to be aware of what that value really consists. We simply need to adopt a different attitude and not regard say, a business plan or economic forecast, as cast in stone but simply as a viewing point.  

There is only one absolute (apart from death) in the Universe – The Speed of Light. 

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