Navigating the Unknowns

How can we avoid missing those things that are only obvious in hindsight? This is the question we’ve been asked more than once over the past few weeks and it crystalised for me to some extent what our value proposition at 100%Open could and should be.

If we are really honest with ourselves, all that most of us really seem to know these days is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and that we don’t really know what to do about it. This is most counter-intuitive for most organisations which are used to profiting through planning and prediction –  which can be helpful but represents an increasingly insufficient mode of working.

  • Unknown 1 – The stuff we don’t know
  • Unknown 2 – The stuff we don’t even know we don’t know
  • Unknown 3 – Not knowing what to do about Unknown’s 1 & 2

That’s three big hairy unknowns right there which are mostly terrifying. Donald Rumsfeld would be spinning in his metaphorical grave. The most common reactions in our experience are:

  1. Keep head firmly in the sand – to complete ignore them as it’s just too difficult to even contemplate, and hope it goes away.
  2. Analysis paralysis – to gather as much data as possible about everything that could happen but thereby avoiding actually doing anything.
  3. Premature evaluation – try something different but only half heatedly and then evaluate it too much and too early to guarantee failure and confirm existing prejudices or choices.

So how do we get beyond these three unknowns? The biggest challenge of the 21st century is to give up control and embrace uncertainty. In other words to try a bunch of stuff and be open and honest about the problems we are facing and see what we learn as as result.

At 100%Open we do codify what we are learning* but mostly we make stuff up was we go along and through sheer force of will combined with stubborn optimism, make sure we end up in a better place than where we started. What it lacks in elegance, it makes up for in effectiveness.

For example one of our clients introduced us to a room full of people recently – none of whom were really sure why they were there – as being ‘comfortable with emergence’. Another described us, and again I think this was a complement, as a ‘positive virus’.

So, if you know that you don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know what to do about it, then give us a call. Not the snappiest of value propositions I know but hey, complexity is here to stay and like it or not, we need to get better at navigating our way through.


*See here, here, here and here for some examples of tools and processes we have recently co-created for example.

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