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We think of not talking about COVID19 and its impact on life, society, economy, families and relationships. But how can we ignore the elephant in the room? And is it right to ignore the problem which is looking us in the face? Logic and Reason say that we should not. So, we keep returning to the topic but from different angles.

The thought leaders of the world, and I count three main leaders whom I read, are INSEAD France, Harvard US, and McKinsey having offices in various major areas of the world. All three have been watching the situation closely and generating ideas constantly. They do have a dazzling array of teachers, researchers and independent contributors who have been commenting upon the situation as it evolved over time.

I shall share glimpses of such forward thinking with you in this and some more blogs by and by.

Nathan Furr is an Associate Professor of Strategy at INSEAD. His blogpost titled ‘Growing Resilience in Uncertain Times’ appeared on June 2, 2020.

Nathan Furr starts with the thesis that [quote] “When confronted with a situation weighed with anxiety and ambiguity, like a pandemic, a lockdown and frightening news from the economy, it’s impossible for most of us to imagine any upside. We become paralysed; overwhelmed by events, we descend into a state of mind I call unproductive uncertainty. But there are some people who manage to see their way through that paralysis and find a positive path forward.”[unquote]

He goes on to say that some people not only manage to navigate their way in uncertainty, they make uncertainly work for time. The list of such people may include innovators, entrepreneurs, CEOs, Nobel winners, gamblers, surfers, and paramedics. According to Furr, part of the capacity to deal with unknown is innate, but a larger portion is actually learned. [quote] “Those who develop this uncertainty capability are more creative, more successful and better able to turn uncertainty into possibility” [unquote]. Furr says his research over time has identified the approaches and tools they use, some of which he has shared. I have done some editing in the interest of brevity. [quote]

Reframing the impossible

Perceiving our options in a positive or negative light, or framing, changes how we feel about them. It also has an important impact on our responses, according to behavioural science research……

Sometimes described as bias, frames can be used to our advantage:

  • Learning:The Nobel Prize winning chemist Ben Feringa experienced years of learning through failure in his research. He said, “If you deal with uncertainty you will fail. Allow yourself to feel the frustration for a few hours or a few days. But then ask yourself: What can I learn from it? What is the next step that I can be working on? Get resilient at handling the frustration that comes with uncertainty.”
  • Gratitude:  You have a lot at this moment in time, so take time to recognise it all. Baseball legend Lou Gehrig is a great example. At the height of his success, he was diagnosed with the debilitating disease of ALS but in his farewell to baseball, he said: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth…I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”
  • Randomness:What happens to you isn’t solely down to your actions, but you can control your own response. A survivor of a massive avalanche, entrepreneur Jon Winsor said, “We have this perception in business: We think we control the world. I think what is probably more correct is it’s more about interpreting the world instead of trying to say we control it.” Failure and success are more random than we may realise, so don’t let frustration prevent you from trying one more time.
  • Hero:This is the most powerful frame I’ve learned about. A former paramedic, Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour never knew when he went through a door if he would save a life or if his own life would be threatened. To navigate this uncertainty (and later ones), he viewed his experience on the callouts as the hero’s journey. “Every story we love, from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, is about the hero who goes through obstacles. Everyone loves the hero. But the obstacles are what makes the hero.” Strength can come from overcoming hurdles and from showing up even when it’s uncomfortable.

Habits to develop your uncertainty capability

These suggestions are variations on framing which can help you put things in context.

Open your eyes to all options

When in the midst of unproductive uncertainty, we may become so focused on the situation at hand that we overlook any broader possibilities. Psychologists call this tendency to miss the bigger picture “relative deprivation”.

When we can remember that there is a much wider context than we initially believe, we are much more likely to find an optimal outcome. A broader focus allows us to weather the discomfort of unproductive uncertainty with greater optimism and calm.

Think in probabilities, not binary outcomes

When we find ourselves in the middle of a period of unproductive uncertainty, we might get stuck imagining extreme either/or outcomes. Innovators who are adept at managing uncertainty think in terms of probabilities instead, enlarging their potential options.

Remember that possibilities always exist

This may be difficult to see now, in this time of grief and fear for many, but is it true that possibilities always exist? Or is the ability to push through unproductive uncertainty only for the privileged?

Looking back at the words of renowned psychologist and concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl, his conclusion is a powerful testament to the potential for growth even in unthinkable circumstances. He wrote: “Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” We are all free to choose, and finding that freedom is key to finding a way forward in uncertain times.

With unprecedented levels of uncertainty about our health, our work and the world, it’s possible to nurture an uncertainty capability and find resilience. [unquote]


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