Wise use of uncertainty also involves not getting too dependent on linear thinking. Linear thinking is, “If we do this, then that is going happen”. And nonlinear thinking is, “If we do this, there is a certain probability that this or that will happen, but we should stay alert and creatively responsive, since we don’t actually know.” The more we know and the more systemically we think, etc., the higher the probability that what we want to have happen will happen. But there are no guarantees. You don’t know, in fact, whether you will wake up tomorrow morning. You don’t know, in fact, whether there will be an earthquake in the next couple minutes. We don’t know at a very fundamental level. The probability is that you are going to wake up tomorrow, and the probability is there will be no earthquake in the next 10 minutes. But we actually don’t know. So we operate on probabilities and recognize them as probabilities. We don’t act as if there are guarantees and everything is totally stable because then we get whacked up on the side of the head if things don’t turn out that way.
The nice thing is that possibilities can flourish in that space. We can think “Let’s try this since it is not guaranteed that we’re not going make it.” Or “Let’s try this and see how it works and if it doesn’t work let’s explore some different possibilities.” Or “Let’s look at this possibility!” “Let’s look at that possibility!” (There is another pattern in this pattern language on possibility thinking.)
Learning is a gigantic part of this. If we let go of our certainty, we will be better able to learn from what happens. Instead of just rejecting or accepting things in a black-and-white mode, we can learn the nuances and become more flexible through more flexible kinds of learning, and hold our plans lightly.
There’s a leadership theory that I like. If people are looking to you for leadership in a situation, bring something into the situation that offers a structure to people’s thinking or planning or expectations, but hold it lightly. If you get energy from the people or energy from the situation that suggests your plan is not necessarily the best way to go, you can let go of your plan and go with the emerging energy. This can help you adapt appropriately. Go ahead and make plans, but hold them lightly and be responsive to what you get back from the world and from other people.
Now what does “valuing diversity” have to do with using uncertainty wisely? It’s about resilience. There is a dynamic tension between efficiency and resilience. Diversity and redundancy tend to impede efficiency. But if things don’t go as planned, having redundancy and diversity in a system gives you flexibility in dealing with the situation. The presence of diverse approaches, viewpoints, entities, people, species whatever it is, enables you to be more responsive. When you recognize uncertainty, when you recognize complexity and the dynamics of that, you intrinsically value diversity because it helps you succeed even though you don’t know. Of course you also obviously need to pay attention as things unfold. If you don’t pay attention you end up responding to what was rather than to what is. So that is another adaptive response to uncertainty.
I already talked about “nurturing resilience” above. In times of uncertainty be happy to have redundancies in your system, to have things and people who are doing similar things, maybe with slightly different approaches. If you have five species of corn and a blight hits one of them and wipes it out, you still have four species of corn. If you have one species of corn and blight hits, it all gets wiped out: you are done, you don’t have any more corn. So that’s nurturing resilience.
And what do I mean by “delight in the doorways that are opened by the unexpected”? I mean that, instead of surprise being a problem, surprise is a feature – as in, “Oh, look! That’s part of what’s going on, too! Wow, what fun could we have with that?” That moves into positive possibility thinking, which is also a pattern in this pattern language. So there are ways to be irritated and ways to be delighted by the same kinds of surprises. And of course the delight helps you enjoy things instead of being upset by them.
I would love to practice all this more in my own life. I know these ways of looking at uncertainty and using it positively are quite potent to the extent that we can do them, individually and collectively.