We live in an uncertain world pt2

Laurent Corneille concludes his piece about uncertainty for TJ. 

Reading time: 4 minutes.

In an increasingly connected world, small, seemingly inconsequential actions and events can ripple out through a network and gather feedback momentum very quickly. A video involving a kitten and a bath full of water may, in the space of hours, reach millions of people.

Viruses may spread across continents in days, as humans move around the globe by air in unprecedented numbers. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand had to be assassinated for a war to begin. Now, a single tweet by a hyper connected individual can change the course of human history.

“History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes” is a quote often attributed to Mark Twain. It pithily highlights how the study of historical events can guide us into avoiding the repetition of obvious mistakes. Events may not correlate exactly, but themes do recur.

To your author, it appears that the pace of change is untethering us from these rhythmic cadences of yesteryear. The step that took as from the Tudor to the Elizabethan era was one that took us from four to eight meters along our imaginary road but the step we are taking today will in a couple of years take us a thousand miles from where we are now.

To be a good leader is to make sense of the environment in which one lives.

We don’t even have the historical references to understand where our foot may land in 2021.

Educated guesses can be made of course: The Internet of Things (IoT) is in its infancy but will soon be reducing our energy bills. Silicon Valley’s move into autonomous vehicles is creeping into mainstream consciousness while machine learning is already recommending the films we watch.

Drones will soon be delivering our pizzas, crypto-currency will overflow from our digital wallets and Virtual Reality is a retailed reality. To be a good leader is to make sense of the environment in which one lives. If that environment is evolving by the second, more effort must be made to understand it, remain up to date, remain #engaged.

This is not to say that one must know what a Raspberry Pi is or subscribe to Wired magazine. An enormous amount of noise generated by the tech industry is of little or no consequence to the majority and quite frankly, few leaders (and non-leaders) have the time to parse daily tech news for rumours about the latest server specs and database software, even if company money is spent there.

Nevertheless, to see the tech industry as mere manufacturers of semi-conductors and/or the IT department is far from correct. The tech industry is the fashion industry. It is science, medicine and wellbeing. It is transportation and security. It is communications and knowledge.


It is the voice of the disenfranchised and an enabler of state sponsored repression,  extreme violence and propaganda. It is everything and everywhere. We live in the age of the algorithm and as a leader, avoiding the most basic understanding of this new cultural language is no longer an option. It really isn’t.

A curious mindset (which according Todd Kashdan, a senior scientist at George Mason University is made up of four vignettes: Inquisitiveness, creativity, openness and disruption tolerance), is often cited as one of the most important traits for survival in this fast-changing world.

If we cannot predict tomorrow, then we must be able to deal with the ambiguities it throws up. Organisations and the people who work within them must adapt quickly by learning new skills, new processes and new behaviours on the fly.

This cannot be done in a vacuum. It requires a curious mindset to begin with, which helps connect seemingly disparate pieces of knowledge into original ideas. It is not a natural state for everybody, and these are precisely the people most at risk in this VUCA world.

The rate of technological expansion is causing cracks to appear in the old mantle of the pre-algorithm world. For some leaders, the fissures appear as yawning chasms of uncertainty. For others, they are vast expanses where new ideas can be set free.

Plant a small seed here and watch it grow exponentially into a billion-dollar harvest in a year’s time. In this universe, leaders have taken the time to understand the proverbial USB stick and serve the people they lead by understanding the people they lead.

Those people are now more often than not, Millennials and barring a rip in the time-space continuum, it is not a trend that is set to reverse.

If you need help from the IT department to install Excel, do yourself a favour and figure it out on your own (if company policy allows it, of course). When that task has been accomplished, play with your mobile phone.

Understand its full capability as a marvel of modern technology and the horizon will instantly appear broader. Don’t grow jaded before your time. Push the boundaries of your mental dexterity. Ask, seek, knock. Your brand as a leader is at stake.

Read part one of this piece here


About the author

Laurent Corneille is head of innovation at IDG.


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