The Paradox of uncertainty
Current events (alright, THE event) got us thinking about a piece we prepared back in 2009, after the last financial crisis, when the Dow had dropped 53% and for a moment the banking system teetered on the edge of collapse. It was entitled “The Paradox of Uncertainty” which can be summarized as follows:
The more that certainty is sought, and uncertainty avoided, the less innovative an organization (or an individual) is likely to become, and the less certain its future.
But by embracing uncertainty intelligently, the more innovative an organization/individual is likely to be, and the more certain its future.
So we were struck recently to come across the following, the second of “Seven Science-Based Strategies For Coping With Coronavirus Anxiety” in a piece that appeared in Government Executive by Jelena Kecmanovic, a Georgetown psychology Professor:
Tackle the anxiety paradox
Anxiety rises proportionally to how much one tries to get rid of it. Or as Carl Jung put it, “What you resist persists.”
We certainly cannot claim to have influenced Carl Jung, or Jelena Kecmanovic. Nor do we expect that scenario planning was on their minds. But the parallel between the paradox of uncertainty and Jung’s regarding anxiety is striking.
The rationale for our 2009 piece was that although we had seen a resurgence of interest in scenario planning triggered by the recent economic crisis, we wanted to promote the full benefits of the scenario planning process, which are far broader than preparedness in the face of uncertainty. Rather than avoiding or hiding from uncertainty the FSG approach to strategy embraces it, and in doing so drives strategic opportunity identification, innovation, risk management and strategic prioritization.
Scenario planning opens the aperture, playing out the implications of events and allowing second and third order effects to be evaluated. Because the future beyond say five years is inherently uncertain, scenario or alternative futures planning tends to use the long term as a planning horizon. But sometimes, as with the Coronavirus crisis, the future arrives suddenly, and the short term becomes just as uncertain.
We will have a fuller discussion of Coronavirus alternative futures in the weeks to come. In the meantime, you may be interested to read Treading Water, a scenario dealing with global pandemics, one of a set of five we developed for the US Coastguard in 2010, as part of Project Evergreen. If you would like a copy send us an email.
Wishing all of our clients, friends and followers continued good health at this difficult time.