Despite advances in science, uncertainty is a constant. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that predictions by their nature are subject to change with new data. Far too often I see predictions regarded as truth, stifling the dialogue that should focus on the assumptions rather than the results. We must push the boundaries of what we know and what we think is possible in the pursuit of broadening our awareness. If we embrace uncertainty, we are freed to explore and challenge the status quo. In this blog, I will cover how embracing uncertainty is a critical piece to fostering both a personal and organizational learning practice.
Learning does not stop after you finish post-secondary. In fact, many valuable skills are not taught in typical post secondary curriculum as the technology or processes are so new that the knowledge is currently only found in active practitioners. While there are practitioners that teach on the side, it does take time for post secondary institutions to develop and approve educational content. More commonly this niche knowledge is found through direct experience, self-directed learning platforms, and through an individual’s personal research. The market expects organizations to rapidly adjust and pivot business models, and these needs translate down to the employees. Credentials alone have trouble showing an individual’s ability to self-manage, clearly communicate, and be adaptable. Why are these skills important?
To prepare for an uncertain future, one must actively seek out new knowledge and skills. In the words of a wise construction site supervisor, “it is good to go to bed less stupid”. Ask yourself, how many new pieces of software have you used in the last two years? What do you know today that you did not two years ago? This worldview can directly translate to the organizational level. What skills do our employees need to focus on? What competencies, as an organization, do we need to gain or improve? What methods should we employ to accomplish these goals and how do we measure progress?
Originally published in 1990 with a second edition in 2006, I find the writings in Peter Senge’s Book, “The Fifth Discipline” to be ever more relevant despite the passage of time and the accelerating technological change we see today. A summary of the core message of the book can be found here. There are two ideas from his book I want to use to close out this blog, they are his idea of “creative tension” and “commitment to the truth”. Below are two excerpts from the book:
Creative tension: Imagine a rubber band, stretched between your vision and current reality. When stretched, the rubber band creates tension, representing the tension between vision and current reality. What does tension seek? Resolution or release. There are only two possible ways for the tension to resolve itself: pull reality toward the vision or pull the vision toward reality. Which occurs will depend on whether we hold steady to the vision.
Commitment to the truth does not mean seeking the Truth, the absolute final word or ultimate cause. Rather, it means a relentless willingness to root out the ways we limit or deceive ourselves from seeing what is, and to continually challenge our theories of why things are the way they are. It means continually broadening our awareness, just as the great athlete with extraordinary peripheral vision keeps trying to see more of the playing field. It also means continually deepening our understanding of the structures underlying current events. Specifically, people with high levels of personal mastery see more of the structural conflicts underlying their own behavior.
When we embrace uncertainty, we acknowledge that it is our duty to seek out the truth, and it is through managing creative tension that we can find a greater understanding of the world around us.