The future by its very nature is uncertain…

Whenever we have the opportunity to present on innovation we tend to open the discussion with the following concise observation:

“The future by its very nature is uncertain”…

Since the beginning of humanity a range of disciplines across our society have been exploring this statement from philosophers to scientists to economists to business — all of which attempt to build frameworks and models to make sense of the world around us and improve our capacity to predict and respond to change.

Despite this, given the complexity of the systems we inhabit these models tend to break down over time and be supplanted by new emerging paradigms that reframe the narrative, underlying assumptions and predictions.

“The paradox is that our current strong desires for certainty result in higher levels of future uncertainty as our assumptions are ultimately challenged over time and we have no other choice but to respond to change “…

As we progress through the Knowledge Age the interplay between accelerating technology (e.g. digital, AI, networks,decentralised databases, genetics, robotics), social (e.g. ageing demographics, urbanisation, rise of millennials/generation-z, geo-politics), economic (e.g. social inequality, shifts in composition and geography of global GDP, global financial imbalances) and environmental change (e.g. pollution, environmental degradation/extraction), changing consumer and community expectations and new channels and business models are rapidly transforming the world around us.

This acceleration in the pace of change by its very nature is increasing the uncertainty in the systems we inhabit.

In Prof. Desai from Harvard Business School’s book released in May 2017 titled “ The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return[1]” he shares a range of acute observations anchored in stories around how humanity can instruct and shape finance but also how finance can instruct and shape humanity.

In the second chapter of this book — “Risk Business” he explores how risk (i.e. “uncertainty”) is central to finance with diversification being the cornerstone of portfolio theory and the only “free lunch”.

Applying this insight to our current paradigm of “accelerating uncertainty”, higher levels of cognitive diversity across our organisations, leadership teams & boards, system based thinking and a portfolio of initiatives are required to rebalance our short term focus on the “quantitative”, measurable and predictable with a longer term orientation towards “qualitative”, discoverable, observational and innovation.

This balanced 3 Horizons framework[2] will be central to every organisation’s capacity to navigate the changes underway, ensure long term sustainability and a vibrant community.

Our systems and organisational structure responses need to be more flexible, scalable, permeable and adaptable rather than the current fixed, siloed and rigid models that tend to prevail today.

Finally, we need to have an “outside-in” mindset — scanning & sensing the shifts underway (What?), contextualising these trends for our customers & community (So What?) and enabling our customers & community navigate and respond to change underway (Now What?).

As mentioned in an earlier post, new leadership (e.g. altrocentric), management (e.g. entrepreneurship) and skills (e.g. collaboration) will be required by all of us to respond to these opportunities and challenges.

System thinking, humility, listening, observation, collaboration, empathy and enabling through others are central to this emerging narrative.

Do we have the leaders, managers and skills across our organisations that embrace the “uncertainty” and the endless possibilities it presents?

Are our organisations, business models and systems designed to respond and adapt to accelerating change?

Have we clearly defined the problems to be solved?

Are we asking the What?, So What? and the Now What?…

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid