Great thanks to this week's author ATD Maine Chapter Communications Team Member Kym Dakin
We spend so much time and energy running away from uncertainty. Yet here we are, surrounded by it, marinated in it, and in some cases, choking on it.
What would happen if we embraced its value instead?
Uncertainty on Steroids
In March of 2020, just as it became clear that some weird and deadly virus thing called Covid-19 was not going away, and was, in fact, killing increasing multiples of humans across the globe, I lost my job. I also lost my five in-person training contracts that I had spent considerable time putting together, and that I had counted on to amplify our income. Like so many others at the time, I could no longer be in denial about what was happening, and how it made me feel. I was shocked, devastated, and suddenly dog paddling in a swelling river of financial fear.
This was uncertainty on steroids. And no one on our planet was ready for it.
Right now, I ’m reading a remarkable book “The Upside of Uncertainty*” by Nathan and Susannah Harmon Furr. At a time when so many of us yearn to go back to our pre-Covid “normal”, the authors are instead making the case for going forward into uncertainty so that we may discover its gifts.
As we watch working culture grapple with trying to attract enough employees to stay in business, as we witness the vulnerability of what many of us assumed were rock solid political institutions, as we become aware of an entire generation of skilled and vital people moving away from the long-established 9-5 work model, many of us are thrown back on old ways of coping with uncertainty. And many of those ways are decidedly toxic.
The Power of a Pause…
But instead of drinking, shopping, click-baiting, or yelling too much, we could pause and reframe what is going on in front of us. We could begin by asking questions, we could challenge ourselves, those we work with and those we love to take a deep breath and consider flipping the lens on what looks like a crisis from disaster to opportunity.
This is not easy.
We are wired to run from uncertainty as if it ’s a forest on fire. Our lizard brain kicks in and everything speeds up inside and outside of ourselves. We run from our feelings and move into panicked action of any kind, just to feel like we ’re doing SOMETHING. We ’ve heard and perhaps experienced for ourselves the stories of compound disasters when we can’t allow ourselves to feel pain and fear: the unexpected death of a spouse and the surviving husband totals the car, she loses her job and accidentally sets the kitchen on fire.
Running away invites more chaos and pain. Just like what our moms may have told us about dealing with nightmares: we need to face the monster chasing us and make it our friend.
Why Uncertainty is Good for us:
The unknown is everywhere in our world, and it always has been. Exploration does not happen without uncertainty as its impetus. In the Positive Intelligence model, the ability to Explore, to get curious, ask questions and dig into deeper information is one of the five Sage powers needed to subdue our lizard brain.
I would argue that true growth, true accomplishment needs uncertainty somewhere in the process. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Anything truly valuable that anyone has accomplished, from raising a child to flying to the outer reaches of the universe has been undertaken by taking on risk - and risk is birthed in uncertainty.
But What if I Fail?
Fear of making mistakes can be paralyzing. Prolonged paralysis has many possible disguises: laziness, complacency, and even the appearance of contentment with the “way things are”. One of the gifts of the energetic entrepreneurial culture, however, is the bold acknowledgement that innovation is impossible without the lessons of failure. Edward D. Hess, Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business claims in a Forbes article titled Creating An Innovation Culture: Accepting Failure is Necessary:
“Innovation requires a mindset that rejects the fear of failure and replaces that fear of failure with the joy of exploration and experimental learning. We also found that innovation organizations understand that failures are a necessity (in as much as 90% of the time) so long as the learning comes from small risk experiments. As one innovation leader stated: “we celebrate success; we console failure; and we get rid of those who are afraid to try”.
Again, thePositive Intelligence model has wisdom to add as well. By strengthening our Sage muscles, we grow our capacity to look at any failure, challenge or even disaster as a gift and opportunity to learn, amplify our power of resilience, and find inspiration in the journey.
Business as UN-usual…
Are you working in an organization or a business that is having difficulty attracting employees? One of the unexpected lessons that the pandemic drove home is the palpable discovery that people need meaning and the opportunity to grow in their jobs, personally as well as professionally. This requires risk on the part of a business to look more closely at job requirements and to begin to listen and embrace what employees need and want. Could a position be a work from home hybrid? Could there be job sharing for employees caring for small children or elderly parents? How can you design a particular job so that it is not boring and repetitive? Reimagining what specific jobs could look like requires us to wade into the waters of uncertainty, but once we do, we will be on our way to hiring and retaining truly valuable employees.
The necessity of informed, human-centered strategy is stitched throughout the ATD Talent Development Capability Model. The need to embrace a certain amount of risk is at least strongly implied if not directly addressed in these three elements:
Lifelong learning: Sometimes called continuous learning, agile learning, or learning drive, this is marked by traits such as self-motivation, insatiable curiosity, and intelligent risk-taking.
Talent Strategy and Management: For an organization to realize its potential, talent development should be integrated into all components of talent strategy and management.
Organization Development and Culture: To remain relevant, organizations must continually develop capability and capacity.
For all of us in these times, we are called to develop our “capability and capacity” to learn, to grow, to evolve our ways of thinking and the actions we take. We cannot make the changes we so desperately need in our world without embracing uncertainty.
So - How do we do THAT??
Here are 5 simple steps you can take just for yourself as a way out of paralysis, stasis, boredom or complacency, so that you can reap the benefits of uncertainty:
Move Your Body: You’ve heard it before and it’s true. Think of your body as a different kind of brain - one that feeds you information through your senses and perceptions, one that needs to move in order to do its job. I’m experimenting with seeding different kinds of movement throughout the day as a way to transition from one activity to the next like: 10 minutes of yoga on an app like Down Dog , a quick round of 5 Tibetan Rythms, or just a quick walk around the block, the building, whatever is outside your door. My husband and I started getting conscious about daily walks and daily yoga at the start of the pandemic, and these practices continue to nourish and fortify us.
Find a Healthier Routine: When the world loses its bearings, that doesn’t mean you have to. A morning ritual can help.There is value in being conscious of whatever your actions may be that start your day. Does your alarm wake you up with a loud clanging sound? Maybe you prefer to start things off that way, but there are alternatives that make for a sweeter experience. Do you then scurry to the shower, throw on your clothes, grab a cookie for breakfast, charge out the door…and still expect the rest of your day to go well? Let’s consider what might happen if you got up one hour earlier and made choices about what would provide a healthier and even more joyful start to your day. Find some great ideas here.
Be Open to a Silver Lining: The Positive Intelligence model, along with so many other coach programs, positions a “glass half full” attitude squarely in the center of mindset resilience. No matter what may happen to us on our lives journey, if we can manage to actively seek for a gift or opportunity in the event, we can almost always find one. I realized that the “gift” of the pandemic was Time. For the first time in my adult life, I had unstructured time - hours and hours of it. I decided to write a book about Head Hands & Heart listening, published by Routledge Publishers and on sale in early 2023!
Follow a Curiosity: Think about it. Try to remember a time when you were simultaneously very afraid and very curious. Apparently, these two emotions cannot exist in our psyches at the same time. Allowing yourself just a little time and space to follow a curiosity can produce excitement and hopefulness where there was boredom and burnout. Next time you feel anxiety, get curious as to how this plays out in your body. Take some time to ask questions and consider alternatives. My curiosity got piqued with an invitation to join a women-only class in creating an online product - and the result was a bookmarking app for online meetings called Nugget - which sold for a nice price this past December!
Ask for Help: If you’ve got resistance to asking for assistance…. do yourself a favor and get over it. Please recognize that your mindset has been hijacked by our culture’s toxic myth of the “self-made man” - when truly, there is no such thing and there never was. We are all of us grappling with many flavors of uncertainty right now and much as we would love to blend them all into a delicious stew… this is not always effectively done on one’s own. Help could be as simple as an in-depth talk with a trusted friend, taking a class in a subject of importance to you, or signing up for a sample coach package. My clients have found it helpful to find out which of the 9 Saboteurs impede their progress and fuel their toxic response to uncertainty. Sign up for a free Saboteur assessment and one hour coach session with me to explore how these uncertain times can better work for you!