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The American born British Petroleum industrialist, Jean Paul Getty once said: “Without the element of uncertainty, the bringing off of even, the greatest business triumph would be dull, routine, and eminently unsatisfying.” The husband-and-wife duo of Nathan and Susannah Fur, both intrepid researchers, in their upcoming book, “The Upside of Uncertainty”, embellish Getty’s contention by not just arguing about a slew of advantages that the negatively perceived feature of uncertainty can otherwise bestow on us, but also by providing a practically implementable “tool kit” to make uncertainty an able ally. Even though what the duo offer is old wine, the bottle is not just new and shiny. There are lots of takeaways that can be gleaned from the book.
The authors premise their theories by using an “uncertainty first aid cross” as the primary tool. Resembling the commonly found red cross symbol, the uncertainty first aid cross consists of a set of four tools. The Northernmost end of the cross is titled “Reframe”; the Southernmost end of the cross is called “Sustain”; and at the Western and Eastern ends of the cross lie, “Prime” and “Do” respectively. Each of these tools in turn are made up of various elements/components.
The primary objective of “Reframing” is to undertake a paradigm shift towards the very notion of uncertainty. Instead of acting like a Cassandra mulling over doomsday, it would be better to reframe our perceptions governing uncertainty that would enable us to identify its upshots. A few techniques that would aid and assist us in this endeavour would be ‘Reverse insurance‘, a practice that makes us aware of the fact that an element of uncertainty is in fact a blessing; ‘Regret minimization‘: working out backwards all options available to minimis the possibilities of later regret; and ‘Aplomb‘: transforming self-doubt from foe to friend. Clare and David Hieatt, the founding couple of the Howies Brand of clothing found themselves at the crossroads when after acquiring their brand, Timberland refused to toe the philosophy that had characterised Howies, orginally. This led to the Hieatts exiting the company. However, Clare & David used uncertainty to their advantage by converting the quaint town of four thousand people, called Cardigan in Wales into the premier manufacturing hub for Denim Jeans that has at its core tenet, the notion of sustainability. Hiut Denim is now a household name
Urban designer and architect Rob Adams transformed Melbourne from a haphazard concoction of streets into one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world. Adams brought redundant buildings to life, redeveloped Swanston Street as a pedestrian-friendly street, created a new riverfront park called Birrarung Marr from under-used rail sidings, and repurposed the CH2 building to make it first purpose-built office building in Australia to achieve a maximum Six Green Star rating with passive heating and cooling, power generation and blackwater treatment.
The arsenal of tools encompassing the “Prime” method, prepares the doer to take up projects that mean something to her. ‘Personal Real Options‘ impart the value of having a portfolio of both certain and uncertain projects; ‘Dumbo Feathers‘ are people, places and things that helps us develop wings and soar high; ‘Runways and Landing Strips‘ represent money and time that enable ideas to take off and the networks that offer new opportunities. ‘Fait Sur Mesure‘ exhorts us to lead life made to our measure instead of blindly following someone else’s plans. Acclaimed author Roald Dahl held on to his day job at Shell Oil until his writing career took off. Similarly, British author Anthony Trollope held a job with the postal services for decades, concentrating on writing his famous books between 5.30 – 8.30 every morning. Mastering gallows humour also helps one overcome many a tribulation. In the words of singer Leonard Cohen, “a sideways glance at the gathering clouds while one is still sipping tea in the garden…There is an amortization of burden when we share a heavy load.”
The tools “Do” and “Sustain”, enable unlocking the rewarding possibilities hidden in and by uncertainty and remind us to pivot when things turn pear shaped, respectively. The creator of Ruby on Rails and Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hanson, is a serial entrepreneur who was once served an infringement notice by Apple (a dispute in which David ultimately prevailed over Goliath). Hanson detests outcome-based goals terming them ‘oppressive’. He argues for pursuing goals based on values than staying focused on goals. Y Combinator, the American technology start-up accelerator, hosts a weekly dinner for its participants. At these dinners, successful entrepreneurs describe their triumphs and failures, in addition to mentoring the participants. Graduating companies from the fabled Y Combinator stable include Airbnb, Dropbox, and GitHub.
“The Upside of Uncertainty” is full of these splendid examples, include some poignant ones involving the authors themselves. For example, the uncertainties the authors faced when one of their children came out as a transgender while another went through a severe bout of depression, bears ample testimony to not just the authors’ resilience but their genuineness and authenticity. They truly practice what they preach. This authenticity is also apparent from the number of interviews which the duo has conducted before embarking on the ambitious endeavour of writing this book. The book is worth reading for the real-life examples alone! The book also sets out at the end of every Chapter, simple exercises and experiments (both thought and physical) that encourages sustained transformation attempts. Titled “Reflection and Practice” these are sturdy companions to the principles contained within the book.
“The Upside of Uncertainty” – antidote to ambiguity
(The Upside of Uncertainty: A Guide to Finding Possibility in the Unknown – Nathan Furr & Susannah Harmon Furr is published by Harvard Business Review Press and will be available for sale from the 19th of July 2022 onwards. Thank You Net Galley for the Advance Reviewer Copy)