Navigating uncertainty

N°320a – Synopsis (8 p.) – Uncertainty
Navigating uncertainty
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Geopolitical conflicts, climate change, technological disruptions… Uncertainty is now permanent and extended to every domain. What reflexes need to be acquired to approach uncertain situations with dynamism and optimism?

These last decades, the level of uncertainty we find ourselves confronted to has grown unrelentingly. This is clearly reflected in the World Uncertainty Index (WUI) calculated by the IMF.  Futurist Jamais Cascio even considers that the very nature of uncertainty has changed. According to him, with climate change, the 2020 pandemic, technological disruptions and geopolitical instability, we have moved from a “VUCA” world—volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—to a “BANI” one—brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible.

More than ever, it is necessary to have leaders capable of navigating uncertainty. However, although many are trained in risk-management, very few have a culture of uncertainty management. And yet the challenges are different. Risk is generally handled according to a probabilistic approach, based on the extrapolation of past incidences of certain situations. This cannot be applied to uncertainty, which is characterized by an absence of data to model the future. A company like TotalEnergies provides a good illustration of this shift in paradigm. Historically, it had to cope with known risks, against which it had developed a solid expertise: selecting its exploration and drilling zones, securing them, protecting itself from geopolitical conflicts, confronting price volatility, etc. Today, it faces a context in which its traditional reference points have been scrambled. In particular, it must thoroughly rethink its energy mix, redefine its raison d’être, and regain its attractiveness to talents mindful of their environmental impact. In the face of so many unknowns, traditional risk management methods are no longer sufficient, as the company’s CEO Patrick Pouyanné has underlined: “Risk is manageable, uncertainty is not.” Indeed, uncertainty requires very specific competencies, such as the active exploration of the unknown, the ability to question one’s convictions, tolerance of ambiguity… Beyond their personal approach to uncertainty, managers and executives must also be capable of guiding their teams in this context: providing enough anchor points to avoid paralysis, while encouraging continuous learning.

Fortunately, we can reinforce our capacity to navigate uncertainty by drawing inspiration from the practices of those who thrive in it: serial entrepreneurs, scientists and great inventors.

In this synopsis:
– Energizing our teams in the face of uncertainty
– Helping our teams manage permanent uncertainty
– Providing a clear framework to decide in uncertainty

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