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David Sable Headshot

We Live in Uncertain Times

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We live in uncertain times...

No joke.

In fact, we live in the Age of Beta -- we never know what's going to work or not, but we take the plunge and update our apps as they come -- and by Apps I mean even our "Lifeapps," that is, relationships, philosophies, ideas.

So why do we accept the uncertainty of the latest iPhone, Microsoft or Angry Birds release and obsess at work or in relationships because of a perceived lack of clarity? We limit our ability to perform, innovate or transform because of fear of failure -- again linked to uncertainty and absence of clarity.

(More on The Uncertainty Principle here.)

Now, none of us would want to live in a feudal society (unless you were king,) but in those times there was little uncertainty -- you could starve to death or be killed on some whim, but you knew your place and knew it was where you belonged. And in highly structured hierarchical societies and companies it's much the same -- it's good to be king and, yes, you know your place and there is clarity for sure, but it's boring... limiting... and there is probably little or no innovation and -- by the way -- they ultimately fail.

So how do we as a society break out? How do we, even in the absence of full clarity, give people the opportunity to excel through experimentation and innovation -- how do we limit the fear and maximize the beta?

Esther Dyson (thank you, Esther!!!) gave me the clue last week when she shared the following thought with me: A good leader absorbs uncertainty, whereas a manager simply distributes it.

Think about it -- absorbing uncertainty to me means being accountable, letting others know that there is no blame, no finger pointing, no deflection of failure. That, to me, is true leadership.

Distributing uncertainty means that you look to hedge the bet on failure. You are looking for others to be lined up along the blame wall -- that is not leadership.

Why do we accept beta releases, imperfect forms, from some? Because they have the credibility of accountability. We know Apple and Microsoft will make it right; we know that they will stand behind their product.

The Graveyards of Failed Enterprises are filled with the remains of those who didn't absorb the uncertainty but rather ignored or shared it. The ground is littered with the detritus of relationships where uncertainty ruled. Lack of leadership leads to rampant uncertainty, and rampant uncertainty leads to certain failure.


"The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers." -- Erich Fromm

Think on this, because I think it takes the idea to another dimension. True leader sabsorbs uncertainty -- meaning that they don't necessarily create clarity. To the contrary, they make uncertainty OK -- they make it a condition of positive development, they unleash the full opportunity inherent in uncertainty -- ergo, allowing us all to develop our true power.

So if you are in a company or in a relationship or are contemplating the why of it all, if you really want meaning -- be a leader, absorb the fear of the unknown, accept the full accountability for the journey, and my sense is that you and your quest will flourish.

And if you can't, if you are unable to make that leap, link yourself. Hitch your wagon to someone who can... don't get blocked: unfold.

One last thought -- also from Fromm -- to me completes the thought.


"Critical and radical thought will only bear fruit when it is blended with the most precious quality man is endowed with -- the love of life."

Think on that -- I believe that love of life is what gives us the strength to absorb the unknown, and the more we absorb and the more we discover, the richer the lives we lead...

What do you think?

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