For anyone involved in planning and decision-making, combatting risk and uncertainty is a major part of their job. Politicians, corporates, strategists and policy makers across the private and public sectors are currently faced with the challenge to recognise that uncertainty is about exploring the possible, not the impossible. This is especially relevant in a world complicated by pandemics, digital change, social and political unrest.
The term “unknown–unknowns” is often used to excuse decision makers from grappling with uncertainty. “We could not have seen it coming” should not be accepted as a justification anymore. Yet few uncertain events fall into this category. Most future uncertainties are “known-unknowns”. There may have been good thinking based on previous experience and circumstances, but the prime culprits for wrong outcomes are poor insight and poor foresight. Reliance on accepted decision models, and unwillingness to consider alternative or challenging options, limit thinking and clarity of analysis.
In my recently-published book “Uncertainty Deconstructed” I reflect on how uncertainty is not really uncertainty at all but just indicates a lack of foresight, imagination, and vision; as well as an unwillingness to think about the unthinkable - good and bad - and be prepared for it or even take advantage of it. Most situations are behavioural, so reliance on conventional metrics and models is no longer enough. A diversified creative and psychological approach is required. The impact of risk can be mitigated only by re-evaluating uncertainty and then planning for contingencies. The enemy of decision making is not uncertainty but lack of imagination when visualising the future.
To fully understand uncertainty, we need to deconstruct it and we should pose the following key questions: What are the main elements that characterise the creation of uncertainty? What scenarios can be used to explore uncertainty? What behavioural factors should be considered in analysing human responses to uncertainty?
So, to anyone asking “Shouldn’t we have seen it coming?”, the answer is of course we should have!
Bruce Garvey, consultant and author, will be the speaker at our upcoming virtual Showcase Deconstructing Uncertainty: "We Should Have Seen It Coming!" Showcase that will take place on 20 September. Book your place here.