How to Courageously Create Plans in the Midst of Uncertainty

If the headline for this piece seemed of interest to you, then you have my deepest sympathies.

I mean that sincerely. It is likely that you are facing what feels like a big decision or something too complex. And what you would like right now is some certainty.

Another layer of my sympathy has to do with the fact that I do not have any certainty for you. And the even worse news is that attempts to create some future certainty won’t help you either. And the reason that I know this is that we have tried many times before.

Here is an example:

By the year 2050, over 40 percent of Americans believe that Jesus will reappear in human form. This finding comes from a recent Pew Research Center study. Surely 50 million Americans can’t be wrong. However, they are just the latest in our history of predicting this event.

Here are some of the previous attempts at certainty:

  • Hippolytus of Rome said it would be 500 AD. This was based on his interpretation of the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. Perhaps not the right data set.
  • John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, predicted 1836 based on a passage in Revelation 12.
  • Edgar C Whisenant, a NASA engineer and Bible student predicted 1988. He even wrote a book. “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” When his predicted date of the apocalypse passed, he wrote several more books about being on “borrowed time,” none of which sold many copies.

We do it anyway, though, because what we desire is some form of certainty. Our default setting compels us to create images of a future we would prefer. And those images are repeatedly not true.

But there is good news: There exist useful frameworks for getting to know the future and for taking back some of the agency on the shaping of the images you and your organization holds of the future.

It begins by dropping the need to predict a particular future and instead understanding that the future is alive in your present-day decision making. The future is not a place on the horizon at which we arrive. The future is alive inside of you and your organization at the level of (generally unconscious) images.

“The future cannot be predicted because the future does not exist.” — James Dator

To make those images more visible and to create alignment on taking agency and shaping futures is the work of foresight. And, it turns out, that organizations that can inspire and cultivate foresight as a mindset and practice are more capable of facing uncertainty.

During a foresight webinar, we walked viewers through the steps to creating alternative scenarios of the future based on present-day inflection points. If you are in the mode of needing to know what more is possible, check out the step-by-step instructions we outlined on creating simulated future realities.