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Uncertainty and Edges - What are you learning?

Edges, Five Bears Photography, Georgia, Vermont

In these last couple of weeks, many of us have experienced profound feelings of disorientation and uncertainty.

While the tendency may be to ignore the uncertainty as a way of protecting ourselves, I am doing my best to meet it with curiosity and ask, what can I learn and how can I serve? In this unprecedented slowdown, I’ve been reading more, attending webinars, “Zooming” and Facetiming with friends and family, and offering free coaching. Anything to stay connected and to learn.

This uncertainty is also a big challenge for leaders as they support and reassure employees, create new remote workplaces so business can continue, and think through innovative approaches to lead through the complexity of this new terrain.

Borrowing from Dave Snowden’s ( Cynefin Complexity Framework, we are living in an environment where there are no easy answers and falling into old patterns may not be the right approach. Jennifer Garvey Berger, CEO of Cultivating Leadership explains the Cynefin Framework in a leadership context and how important leadership agility becomes when navigating along the unpredictable border of complexity and chaos. It requires new thinking, experimentation and strategies.

These times require what I like to call “edge” work. Finding our edges, walking alongside them and peering over to learn new things. This gets us out of our confident comfort zone (or old patterns) and into a place of curiosity, inquiry, and new possibilities. Whenever I feel stuck in uncertainty, Scott Mutter’s surreal photography and poem provokes questions and serves as a nudge toward an edge. The water (the unknown) creates discomfort which is a clue that I am on a learning edge, an opening up to a new way of being.

In navigating the complexity of these uncertain times and preparing for a new reality beyond the global health crisis, I have been wading in the water, and the questions.

Rainer Maria Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet (See Brain Pickings article here about Rilke and uncertainty) tells us to “have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves... live the questions now.” Staying curious, embracing the unsteady ground, asking questions that expand possibilities, and experimenting with new approaches, may help us peer over the edge and see complexity more clearly.

What are you learning? It is a great time to consider, as Bob Black says, “The reinvention of daily life… [which] means marching off the edge of our maps.” In other words, breaking out of old patterns and letting go of what no longer works for you.

What does this look like? Here’s a simple example. Have you ever sat on your couch staring into your phone and had a small child - or in my case a wet dog nose - nudge you under the elbow? I’m paying more attention to these nudges and putting the phone down. Being a calm presence with family, friends, clients and colleagues has become a priority and something I will carry forward, even when the pace of life inevitably ratchets back up. What questions and resilient behaviors have unfolded for you? How will you embrace them in navigating the emergent and unpredictable complexity of our world?


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