“Who will lead us out of our uncertainty?”

“The world still reels from the fallout from the crisis of 2008 :: Who will lead us out of our uncertainty?”

Those are the frame-captions for a cartoon-style advert that’s currently running on the Forbes website, for an upcoming conference called ‘2013 Global Leadership Summit: Beyond Heroes, Villains and Scapegoats‘, to be run by London Business School in May 2013.

The conference itself looks pretty reasonable (well, if you trust financial organisations and academics, that is, which in general I don’t), and features some definitely-interesting folks such as Olafur Grimsson, President of Iceland (one of the most outspoken critics of said financiers). All well and good, in its own way, though I’d admit not exactly my own cup of tea. Someone will want to go, no doubt – and welcome to it, I guess.

But that tag-line is kinda interesting – because the only valid answer is ‘No-one’.

Oh, no doubt there’d be plenty of people who would offer to lead us out of uncertainty. Yet the reality is that in every case they’ll either be a fool, a fraud, or both. The blunt fact is that uncertainty is a fact of life: there is no way to ‘lead us out of uncertainty’ – because ‘certainty’ is itself a delusion about a world that does not and cannot ever actually exist.

A more useful question, perhaps, would be to ask “Who will lead us into our uncertainty?“ - to provide us with better guidance about how to operate and make sense within that seemingly-chaotic space. Learn to work with uncertainty – not run away from it – not least because it’s only within that space that new options and opportunities can arise. That’s what’s real; that’s what matters; that’s what’s most needed now.

Yes, the conference is right to say that that we do indeed need to move “beyond heroes, villains and scapegoats” (though, no, that should not mean an unfettered licence for those said financiers et al. to make even more of a mess of our global economy than they have done already… :-| ) Yet what they don’t say, and probably won’t say, is that the way we do that is to stop pretending that ‘certainty’ is anything more than a misleading myth.

Time to get real, and accept the inevitability of uncertainty.

[An aside: For something that claims to lead people out of uncertainty, even the text of the advert itself seems a bit uncertain! When I wrote it down two days ago, the caption was subtly different: "The world still reels from the financial crisis of 2008 :: Who will lead us out of this uncertainty?" (differences italicised). When I checked it again this afternoon, the text read as above. May just be transcription-errors on my part, of course, but it does kinda seem like someone's avoiding responsibility on one side - 'the crisis' instead of 'the financial crisis' - and 'playing victim' on the other - 'our uncertainty' rather than 'this uncertainty'. Hmm... :-) ]

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Posted in Business, Complexity / Structure, Society
2 comments on ““Who will lead us out of our uncertainty?”
  1. Nick Gall says:

    “Who will lead us into our uncertainty?“ Exactly right Tom! Who will help us embrace uncertainty and all the possibilities it opens for us. The answer is, amongst others, poets and scientists:

    John Keats coined the term “negative capability”, which is a wonderful name for the ability to embrace uncertainty: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_Capability .

    Stuart Firestein, Author of ‘Ignorance,’ says it is ignorance–not knowledge–that is the true engine of science: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/22/stuart-firestein-author-of-ignorance-says-not-knowing-is-the-key-to-science.html

    I’ve collected links on the upside of uncertainty over the years if anyone is interested: https://pinboard.in/u:ironick/t:uncertainty/

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  1. [...] eliminate it. In fact, elimination of uncertainty is a fool’s errand. As Tom Graves stated in “Who will lead us out of our uncertainty”: But that tag-line is kinda interesting – because the only valid answer is [...]

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