Uncertainty Sucks

We’re hard-wired to seek certainty over uncertainty, and that creates problems and challenges for many leaders – especially in a fast-changing, more uncertain world.

I was speaking at a conference recently, and the MC, who I met before the conference, said, “Oh, you’re a futurist. Can you tell me what Saturday’s Lotto numbers are?” We had a little bit of a laugh about this – I quite often get that question – and I can’t remember what I said. Probably something silly like, “No, why would I want to share the prize with you?”

But it got me thinking about the future and how this person realised, even though it’s unrealistic, that having certainty about the future would give him a huge – in this case – financial advantage. For example, knowing the direction of the stock market or interest rates could significantly benefit an investor.

The reality, of course, is that we can’t predict the future with certainty. There will always be some level of uncertainty, but we can be more prepared for the future, even if we cannot be 100% certain. The more we understand what could happen in the future, the easier it is to make well-informed decisions in the present. Having a plan A, and contingencies B and C, can make a significant difference in our ability to navigate through an uncertain future.

We’re hard-wired to crave certainty and dislike uncertainty. In a 2016 research study, participants were asked to play a game on a computer screen where they had to click on one of several rocks at random. Most of the rocks had nothing underneath them, but a few had a snake hidden underneath. If a participant clicked on a rock with a snake, they got a mild electric shock. But then the researchers changed the game, and gave the participants two options: either increase the number of rocks with snakes under them (so it’s more dangerous), or move the existing snakes to a different rock (so it’s more uncertain). The researchers found that despite the higher risk involved, people preferred the danger of having a higher number of snakes to the uncertainty created by randomly moving one of them.

As leaders, it is essential to understand the external pressures that can have an impact on our future. It’s not easy to do, when day-to-day operational issues take up so much time and attention, but it’s essential to also look up, look around, and look ahead.

In my Future Scenarios program, I work with leaders and their teams to help them prepare for multiple futures. I’m going to run a virtual masterclass soon where I’ll take some of that program and give you three simple, practical, ideas you can use right now to prepare your people (and yourself!) for the future.

It’s free, public, and open to everybody, so please join me.



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