Chris Mowles wrote a Medium post titled The experience of uncertainty (3 Mar 2023).

« I had been working with a group of managers and we had been discussing how a lot of managerial work is about dealing with uncertainty. Things don’t work out quite how you planned, surprises come out of left field, or your boss, or the organisation with which you are working closely, has just decided that something else is now a priority…  but you’re still responsible for your first priority…  But how do you know how to respond and what to pay attention to? »

« I suggested that we might work together with uncertainty with the group as an experiment the next morning, if they were up for it… They said they would like to try it. »

« A number of things occurred to me after the session which we talked through together later on. Firstly, our existing ways of dealing with what we face in organisations don’t necessarily serve us well in new situations. We are quite likely to fall back on tried and tested routines, but these may or may not be useful when the challenge is different. »

« Secondly, the idea that we form intentions first and then act on them was belied in this particular experiment… We found out something that we already knew, that the game of organisational life is very involving, and, as Kierkegaard observed we live life forwards but can only understand it backwards. »

« Thirdly, in sustained acts of improvisation and negotiation people can find their way forward if they can live with the anxiety of being together in a group and not knowing the ‘best way’ of proceeding. There may be no ‘best way’, only the way that works for this particular group at the time. »

« Fourthly, participants observed that when they were back in their organisations they often pitched into solving problems as though it were obvious what they should do. They spent very little time sitting with the discomfort of not knowing. This last observation led them to ponder what they might do differently as managers to create more time and space for talking without any particular end in view. »

Chris Mowles is author of Complexity: a key idea for business and society (2021).

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