Uncertain, Unimaginable, Impossible

In many conferences being held all over the world, continuing discussions remain focused on managing change or managing uncertainty – as if resistance to change is not enough of a hurdle, or that the level of uncertainty has become unimaginable, if not impossible.  These words – uncertain, unimaginable, impossible are words you don’t hear from hard core entrepreneurs – who thrive on ambiguity, breathe better with pressure, or feed on pure grit – where failure is not an option or is seen as a step closer to success.

These are reflections I have over recent days after I paused to check on my non-stop activities since the March lockdown – balancing the need for productivity that will ensure not just our relevance to the market through constant information, ideas and inspiration, but to also strengthen our team members’ faith and trust with each other during these challenging times.  There was not a moment to be idle or to be anxious, but in continuous doing that have been giving birth to more ideas, new projects, and fresh directions – again, almost a natural thing for entrepreneurs.

In the recent digital World Business Forum (Oct 20-21, 2020), futurist Amy Webb mentioned that people are addicted to certainty, as certainty is a way to control the future.  In business, we are all used to making targets, and making sure strategies and plans for execution are designed to achieve forecasts.  This current disruption brought about by the pandemic forces us to plan for the future differently, i.e. instead of asking what’s in store for us in the future, we ask what our orientation toward uncertainty is.  Here Webb described what futurists do – to look at both immediate and future activities and suggested a guide in handling today’s uncertainty –  1) Confront cherished beliefs, 2) Identify signals of change and 3) Prioritize next steps.  She cited what pathfinder companies do better than bystander companies and these include having a strategic foresight process with alternative versions of the future, and not being afraid to confront uncertainty using data and to recalibrate strategy while intentionally looking at adjacent areas of disruption.  While the pandemic is a disruption that definitely has caught everyone offguard – it has also made us think of what other possible disruptions there may be outside our usual competitive lenses.

To quote Webb: “Catastrophe is a great catalyst for positive change” and so we must always be in a state of perpetual readiness or preparedness.

Rachel Botsman, an author and expert on trust in the digital world talked about trust as a currency against uncertainty; where trust that is transparent and consistent enables a confident relationship with the unknown.  She further emphasized areas that build that kind of trust -capability which is being competent and reliable, and character which is having integrity and empathy.

Seth Godin noted that marketers need to do things and start right now with “what we’ve got” while point out the need to be more intentional in design thinking – who is it for and what is it for?  What change are you trying to make, for example, how to help people to feel connected during these times. 

Social connection, according to film director James Cameron, is a basic human need, that can be achieved by movies, through a kind of story telling that is interesting and the type that gets to be shared around camp fires.  He likened making movies to what coders do in creating platforms that make people lives better by addressing a customer need, in the case of movies – with elements of surprise to enjoying life through art.  He noted that while technology is second to the story or the message, technology has enabled connections (nowadays like Zoom) which is like filmmaking – where people connect through images and sound.  Just as the creative process is natural to human beings through dream imagery, many creative ideas have also risen from extreme trauma and disruptions.  Cameron also noted how each movie feels like a start-up – putting together new teams, and making each one see and believe in the vision.  

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