The Intentional Organisation - Issue #11 - Thriving in Uncertainty
1. Thriving in Uncertain Times
Uncertainty is one of the elements of the so-called VUCA Environment. It is none of the most recurring themes in the year 2020. Yet I feel it's essential to shed the light of negativity that encrusts this word.
One of the dominant thinking about humankind's history is that human beings always tried to master uncertainty. Since the ancient Sumer, legions of astrologists, oracles, predictors, all attempted to provide insights in what's to come, to lower the toll of uncertainty. According to this thought, also science merely followed a path to uncertainty reduction into its development process.
Yet, as I engaged in my research on the meaning of work, I kept discovering clues that go instead against this mainstream thinking. Thousands of years of human history have shown much broader respect for uncertain futures. And also science has evolved into something a lot more about probability than certainty.
Uncertainty is the real fuel of human ingenuity.
Think about it. The idea that everything can be reduced to mechanistic predictions doesn't hold, and most scientific domains have now accepted this entirely. We see this first-hand with the Covid-19 crisis: medicine is not about delivering certainty, but about exploring possibilities while facing a problem.
Every generation of human being has lived with uncertainty and unpredictability; that's how we developed the staggering human capacity for invention, discovery, improvisation and creativity.
Margaret Heffernan, Uncharted, page 102
If science accepts uncertainty, why is then this general repulsion for the unknown still affecting us so much? From a certain point in human history, the western world developed a discomfort with uncertainty. Piped into the mindset of the Industrial Revolution, this discomfort has been industrialised in the fabric of most human organisations between the XIX and XX centuries. The problem lies in the application of an engineering mindset in the pursuit of efficiency. Margaret Heffernan much acknowledges this in her book Uncharted: organisations are structured to reduce uncertainty in the quest for efficiency. By doing so, however, they have created a "eugenics mindset, applied to everything we do and everything we are".
Organisations and Uncertainty
My question is how organisations can lead us not toward some predictable goal, but toward a greater and greater capacity to handle unpredictability, and with it, a greater capacity to love and care about other people.
~Margaret Wheatley It Starts with uncertainty
This quote by Margaret Wheatley is more than 20 years old, yet it captures perfectly the problem we face within organisations. We still tend to apply an engineering view to organisational development that doesn't hold to the forces of reality.
Just think about the budgeting process. Ample studies demonstrate a very low correlation of this process with the prediction of revenues. Yet we invest immense amounts of energies in this process across the most organisation. There is an entire movement, called Beyond Budgeting that understood this. Many companies are freeing themselves from the laces of this process. Which also projects a further logical error: the idea that we can take history and project it, linearly, into the future.
Also, HR strongly contributes to this with many processes seemingly built to reduce uncertainty: MBOs, Career Planning, Succession Planning, Performance Management. Yet I can't avoid thinking they all end up spreading that eugenics mindset that Heffernan mentioned.
In a moment of disruption such as the one we are living now, we see two tendencies. On the one side, many companies have addressed the issue clamping down with more control. A few organisations, instead, have taken the lead in embracing a different attitude towards uncertainty, embracing it. The difference between these two types of organisation, is down to the true meaning of Leadership.
Today's organisations need leaders who believe in human potential and goodness, who can inspire people to operate from their highest selves, which can instil in people a deep sense of their worth.
With this, they can develop those capabilities that are key for survival in an uncertain world: sense-making, learning, adapting.
Embracing this approach means also enabling change and transformation to flourish within our organisations. The entire domain of Change Management is today needed because we have built our organisations inept for change. I see more and more that it's not people who resist change, but rather processes, models, structures...
If I can paraphrase a famous quote by Albert Einstein, I'm not sure about which organisations will survive the current crisis, but I'm sure which one will survive the next one.
Embracing uncertainty is the only way we can build genuinely resilient and adaptable organisations.
2. My Latest Posts
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Work. A History of How We Spend Our Time is a very recent book by James Suzman, a British anthropologist and photographer who…
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3. Reading Suggestions
Women are particularly hit by the current economic crisis, for three reasons. They hold the burden for the domestic work, with kids at home during school closures. The sectors in which they are more active, are the one most hit by the crisis. And they also need to take for the elderly. #Diversity
Also the analysis from McKinsey confirms the need for more focused attention on diverse employees, women especially, in the current economic crisis. #Diversity
Conventional wisdom said extroverts would find work-from-home isolation challenging. Turns out that’s not who’s having the hardest time. #RemoteWork
An interesting article on the way Work is evolving, moving away from traditional "jobs" and into something more Fluid. A great setting for the new Discourse of Work that is currently evolving. #Work
What values are the most influential in the world? Across 500,000 surveys in 152 languages, we visualize a rich dataset of human motivations. #Culture
4. The (un) Intentional Organisation 😁
5. Keeping in Touch
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