Archives for posts with tag: Uncertainty


As we all know and feel, America seems to be on the decline. GDP, education, infrastructure – misery all around.

Need further proof?

The recent Global Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum showed America slipping from 4th to 5th in the world.

When you consider the glass half empty, this decline is a permanent process.

When you consider the glass half full, this decline is a temporary dip. Something we can overcome by reinventing ourselves. Again.

The only way out is to dig deep into our creativity to maintain relevance in a shifting global landscape.

Unfortunately, new research coming out of Cornell, suggest our biggest stumbling block to be ourselves: Humans face massive challenges to accept creative ideas.

A few highlights from the Cornell paper:

– Because creative ideas are also new, they seem to give rise to uncertainty or even discomfort for others who depend on the tried-and-true way of doing things. To reduce uncertainty, subconsciously rejecting a creative idea may be easier than accepting it.

– Basically, everyone was evaluating an idea that their peers rated as being creative but the people who were feeling a sense of uncertainty were biased against the creative idea and favored the idea that is purely practical.

– “What we found is that people are perfectly willing to claim they want creative ideas but they can nevertheless hold a negative bias that causes them to reject creative ideas,” Goncalo wrote. “That’s what makes this so insidious for people who are trying to be creative [because] biases may lurk beneath the surface.”

To survive and, hopefully, thrive in a global economy, America needs to become the biggest supporter of creativity and creative people.

In any environment.

In anything we do.

Creativity has to become the mission of this country.

It has to be taught in school.

Rewarded in professional life.

Celebrated in each community.

Creativity shouldn’t be limited to a Creative Director.

An agency,

A division.

Something that’s cool or weird.

It should be a mandate in our society, part of what we are.

Creativity used to be a rare object.

The starving artist.

The weirdo.

The crazies.

We need to weave the weirdness and craziness into the fabric of our lives.

We are all creatives now.

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Increasingly my work and thinking revolves around developing brand strategies in the era of uncertainty.

Not knowing exactly what the future holds is nothing new.

What’s new is that enlightened brand managers/owners have started to embrace the age of uncertainty and demand that its implications are integrated into the overall strategic planning.

The days of having a long-term strategy are over

Rigid strategies don’t meet the expectations of the marketplace. Increasingly, brands ask for flexible strategies with the capacity to quickly adapt to volatile and changing markets. This new goal is more important in the age of certainty than an absolute goal that was common in the socio-economic times pre-Lehman.

Accepting uncertainty dictates a new type of strategy formulation: more fluid than what has worked before but ultimately more useful.

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. (Mike Tyson)

Macro-economic surprises: Debt Ceiling Crisis, European debt crisis, financial crisis, lack of demand, Libya, Fukushima. It has been a crazy year. And we still have more than 4 months to go.

And then we have all the little industry surprises:

How does your Facebook strategy from Spring 2011 feel? Stale, outdated? Didn’t know about Google+, did you?

Is your flash sales strategy still worth a dime after you realize that most buyers don’t come back?

Your app strategy from January 2011 might have been stunning 2 months ago, feels a bit dusty now, doesn’t it?

You need to continue to  develop strategies. They are useful. But only if they can quickly adjust to daily real-world and industry surprises. While it’s important to be resilient, it’s increasingly more important to showcase your adaptability through scenario planning.

The competitive benefit

Most brands are still deploying long-term strategies for the bygone era of certainty. By deploying small strategies that can scale up quickly, managing and prospering from uncertainty, your brand gains a competitive edge. Competitors will have to confront the fact that long-term strategies don’t perform as expected, your brand operating under the premise of the uncertainty will pass competitors by and create even more uncertainty for them.

Holding on to certainty creates more uncertainty.

See also: Welcome to the age of strife.


Image: Courtesy of Behanceserved

I was raised in the traditions of Western schooling with the goal to develop a workforce for the industrial age. If I knew the answer, I was rewarded. My intelligence was measured on standardized tests and all those tests were about knowing the right answer. When I started to manage people, I was rewarded for my certainty – we had a goal and I knew how to get there. Often I had no clue and was filled with fear we would never reach that goal, but I was able to hide my fears and create this aura of knowledge.

Those days are long gone and forgotten. The construct of knowledge and predictability seems laughable when computers can cause a market meltdown, pricing Accenture down to $0.01, when we struggle to prevent a major ecological disaster, when the world is filled with black swans. Our world gets more complex by the day and any thought of certainty seems ridiculous. Information is now consumed in streams and the idea of “truth” transforms right in front of our eyes and mutates into something we have problems defining.

We have to sacrifice certainty.

Our whole belief system is based on certainty and we are defined by our positions, our explanations. In order to survive and prosper in our complex reality, we have to embrace uncertainty. Everything we believe in, everything we “know” needs to go. Time for spring cleaning. Don’t throw everything out, just store your knowledge in the garage and let it sit there. Open the doors and invite new positions in. Listen to what other people have to say, embrace the opposite position, the weird opinion, the unimaginable. We have to live Winston Churchill’s famous quote:

“True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.”

These uncertain times create spaces for invention. We need to let go of old positions and jump into the not-knowing space to discover new ways of thinking. Life goes in inevitable cycles and we need to embrace the ebb and flow to experience real happiness.

Enjoy disruptions and weirdness.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not Tony Robbins or some other life-changing guru. I feel that our need for certainty is so limiting because we don’t really listen. We’re constantly looking for confirmation of our own knowledge. Instead, we need to look for disruptions of our belief system. How beneficial is it to embrace only like-minded views? Your echo chamber gets louder and louder while the box you put yourself in fills up with sameness.

We need to look for disruptions, not similarities. What kind of world can we create when we enjoy weirdness and cherish differences? We don’t have to agree on anything. That’s fine. But every time we experience disruptions, a door opens in our mind to a world that was closed off before.

Companies have challenges embracing uncertainty, especially when business leaders continue to use the machine as the dominant metaphor. Industrial age thinking leads to massive failures since the executives have no clear feeling how their actions affect the collective action of the company. Dynamic organizations are still very rare because sameness is rewarded, certainty lauded and opposing voices pushed aside. Companies need to routinize the exercise of imagination. They need to store all their “knowledge” away and open the doors to new ideas.

Many organizations believe in a culture of fear. Fear is not a good path to creativity. It forces people to focus on incremental solutions, on safe choices. The successful managers of the future will facilitate listening, learning and imagination. And successful companies will embrace this credo:  “We are door openers. Everyone here is an explorer. How could we possibly live our lives looking at door and not open it.”