Every generation seems to feel that it has the most complex and challenging of times. They’re no more or less right than we are. We observe, and believe, that our connected and digital world moves and changes at internet speed, is more transparent and secretive (at the same time), and is increasingly complex and more dilemma-prone than any time observed to date. It’s probably true. Of this I am sure: our world today is more than sufficiently able to be described as, well, uncomfortable (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous).

So, how do you find comfort in an uncomfortable world? It’s not as easy as it is simple.

Be expectant – and prepared to see that which is uncomfortable and maybe even ugly or scary. As organizational psychologist, Karl Weick notes, “Our expectations help us simplify our world and steer away from disconfirming evidence.” Therefore, we see: What we expect to see, What we have labels to see, What we have skills to manage.

Resist jumping to premature conclusions. We love to be problem solvers. Our bias is likely a combination of an eagerness to be decisive and righteous. While both are admirable, they’re not the immediate problem. Listening is. The immediate issue is what’s really going on. Be immersed in sense and sensibility.

First, gain a sense of what’s happening. This is about being aware and really understanding the context of the reality you are facing. Then stay with it long enough to make sense of it. This is about agility – your creative engagement with that uncertain future that is invading your present at an ever increasing rate. Albert Einstein once said, “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”

Action is what you want because action is aimed at results; at making a difference. Great! Except when it’s the wrong action. As American author Upton Sinclair has noted, “It is hard to get a man to understand something when he is being paid to misunderstand it.”

Allow dialogue to triumph over lecture. Questions are your friend. Understanding beats interrogation. Why? Because (that highly desired) action is not just about doing, it is about being prepared, well prepared, to do.

Understanding is curiosity driven. Interrogation is answer driven. ‘Getting answers’ gives the illusion of control. Understanding helps you make sense.

Be clear without being simplistic. Clarity is removing assumptions and ambiguity from situations. Be clear on your strategic intent and flexible on how you get there. Flexible firmness.

Create a mood of high advocacy AND high inquiry. Discuss and set ground rules for dialogue and engagement. The goal is to have a full and robust debate on ideas in order to make sense and the best decision possible AND have the highest possible buy-in after decisions are made.

Get beyond “either/or” thinking. We live in a “both/and” world and should adjust our preparation accordingly: Practice urgent patience, active waiting, unfocused awareness and relaxed anticipation.

That fleeting sense of comfort will not come from rushing around, running faster and relying on “what used to work.” It will come from wisdom. Wisdom is in knowing it’s the whole picture, the totality, that matters; that determines an appropriate and proportionate response. Don’t try to know all the answers. As Confucius said, “He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.”

Prediction is very, very hard, especially when it comes to the future. Therefore, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7).

In Other Words…

“The mistake is thinking that there can be an antidote to the uncertainty.” ― David Levithan, The Lover’s Dictionary

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” ― E.F. Schumacher

“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” ― Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution

“Simplicities are enormously complex. Consider the sentence ‘I love you’.” ― Richard O. Moore, Writing the Silences

“[T]he longer you stay skeptical, doubtful, intellectually uncomfortable, the better it is for you.” ― Joseph Brodsky

“Nothing consoles and comforts like certainty does.” ― Amit Kalantri

In The Word…

“[My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed.” – Luke 1:4

In Linked Words…

Your scary future, Part 6; flexing and all that jazz
Your scary future, Part 5; the necessity of a prepared mind
Your scary future, Part 4: the lady or the tiger?
Your scary future, Part 3: sense and sensibility
Your scary future, Part 2: what kind of problem do you have?