Uncertainty, what uncertainty?

14 08 2013

Apologies for the long break in transmission.

Read a very interesting blog post about Innovation this morning. Gist of it was that even those who say they believe in innovation and creativity, become markedly conservative or risk averse in conditions of uncertainty. Where the post was weak – and fair enough, it was a post, not a thesis – was in skating over any exploration of where this uncertainty derives from. The assumption was the usual one – we are in times of great and unparalleled uncertainty, there’s your problem.

The real problem is – and this has been long recognised – that everyone lives in times of great and unparalleled uncertainty. I remember being read an extract from Scientific American which sounded like one of the more dramatic passages from Toffler’s Future Shock, bewailing the pace of change and the depth of uncertainty we have to live with… only to be then told the article dated from the 1860s. It is the human condition, get over it.

More to the point, I am not convinced that this ambient uncertainty is actually the uncertainty that paralyses our response to positive innovation.

I would like to suggest that uncertainty, in this sense, is actually the opposite of flow (as proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi). In other words, the opposite of being lost in activity that deeply engages us and stretches us just that right amount (which right amount, I suggest, varies from individual to individual) is not “not being deeply engaged” but actually “starting to doubt ourselves and our place in things”.

The sad thing is that many, if not most, of us spend most of our lives in some version of this existential uncertainty; we feel we haven’t really found what we were put on the planet for. And, if you can follow my line of reasoning here, I can’t help noticing that the companies which make the greatest effort to get the right people into the perfect roles are also those that dominate our thinking about innovation and creativity.

Jon is speaking next in Singapore Aug 23 at the Elaura Breakfast Briefing, on the subject of Mapping Talent. Full details at elaura.com/breakfast or call Deborah on +65 62523700 to reserve a place