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Pop quiz: What do science, democracy and uncertainty all have in common?

By In global learning, leadership in real life, relax it's only uncertainty, Uncategorized On January 13, 2022


Image: Pericles Funeral Oration on old Greece 50 drachma (1955) banknote. Famous historical speech of Pericles at the end of first year of the Peloponnesian War. By vkilikov


My next board meeting with a professional organization could be hybrid or it could be remote, or it could be postponed. And my next big client engagement in Europe must – by government decree – be in person. 

Can someone please tell me, “When does normal come back?”

A lot of people are saying, “I guess it’s going to be 2023!”

If we are to believe the news and social media, the current mood in America is that of frustration and confusion. 

We are going forward with a continuing lack of clarity, searching for direction, stability, and competitive advantage. Thepandemic is putting people into a constant churn of change and adaptation. 

And there are many who are using that to discredit some points of view. 

They’re saying, “Well, we can’t trust scientists. We can’t trust Dr. Fauci.” But really the underlying message is: “We can’t trust anybody who changes their mind.” 

Of course, we know science is all about changing your mind. New evidence surfaces and we adapt. And we write about this in Relax. It’s Only Uncertainty.

That’s what dealing with uncertainty is: you don’t know an answer, so you are constantly testing reality and modifying your answer as you learn and grow. 

However, if you examine history, you will see that democracy is a process of moving through uncertainty. 

It gets messy

That’s human progress. It’s not neat. In fact, it’s downright messy. And there are some with reactionary opinions who are using that messiness to discredit the scientific process, and maybe democracy itself. 

It’s not neat and clean. At best, we might say, “What are the best trade-offs at this point in time? How do we move forward?” 

Sometimes you get it wrong, but sometimes you get it right. Sometimes you get lucky and get it “righter” then you thought. Sometimes you get it right for a while, then you learn yours was a short-term answer, and you come up with a better answer. 

My point of view is that the pandemic continues to provide lessons on dealing with uncertainty at every turn. Because we’re constantly taking in information, evaluating that information, and coming up with new guidance. That is the role of science — and that is the role of leaders. 

Leaders take in information as it presents itself and then evaluate it. It’s not about right or wrong. Perhaps it’s about good/better/best or about reaching reasonable decisions with what is possible at a given point in time in order to move forward. 

Let’s not discredit good advice because it sometimes changes. Change does not make it faulty. It was good advice based on what we knew at the time. It is understandable when people become frustrated and want to discredit evolving data while we search for better answers, but the fact is: human beings make progress inch by inch. 

What should leaders do?

In this “widening gyre” of chaos beyond our control, what do leaders need to do now?

Keep your messaging as simple as possible. Although sometimes it’s harder to have a simple message, too many options and variables and possibilities confuse people.

Be ready to admit you may have gotten it wrong… with an explanation. 

Uncertainty-adept leaders know it’s okay to say, “I don’t know. We are working on it.” That’s a very freeing response. 

And how can we help when we’re not being leaders, but just citizens in a civilized society? As much as possible, adapt an outlook of “assumed positive intent.”  Misjudged data is not an attempt to manipulate. People are doing the best they can with the information they have. 

And now, back to our pop quiz: What do science, democracy and uncertainty all have in common?

Learning!