The distinction is useful. To illustrate with a personal example: Like so many firms, we at be radical found our business model (which significantly involved delivery of on-site, in-person learning programs designed for high interactivity) dramatically disrupted with the onset of the Covid crisis.
We had no idea how long the crisis and the lockdowns in response would last. We had no idea when we would be able to travel again. All of these were things we didn’t know and actually couldn’t know. These were our irreducible uncertainties.
But we had reducible uncertainties as well — many things that we could know but simply didn’t. What would the business model look like rebuilt around digital delivery? How would our programs change as we adapted them to new platforms and modalities? How might we create new experiences that would be better/more accessible because they were designed for digital?
Step 4: Get (a Little) Philosophical
In the graphic above, the box of irreducible uncertainties is black for a reason. We cannot know what’s really going on in there, so while all the questions spinning out from the uncertainties in that box might be interesting, they also might drive you mad. And they certainly aren’t where you want to focus your energies as an organizational leader.
Put another way: Unless the organization you’re leading is literally a cult, you don’t want to build your business model around unanswerable questions & irreducible uncertainties.
These, then, are the uncertainties that we want to accept and release. And it’s easier to set all of these aside (and to admit our utter lack of control), if we can direct our attention and creative energies somewhere else — i.e., the box where we keep all of the things we could know but don’t (yet).
Step 5: Embrace Reducible Uncertainty as a Space for Curiosity
The box of reducible uncertainties is a space for engaging curiosity and fostering the growth mindset. This is the box we’ll fill with what Warren Berger called “beautiful questions” — the kind that leverage curiosity to drive discovery and innovation. These questions should be ambitious but actionable. Fundamentally, they can be answered, and the pursuit of those answers — through research, experimentation, prototyping — drives learning for the individual and the organization.
You don’t need to have all the answers as a leader of a learning organization. You need to show up with and encourage the best questions. This is how we realize the upside of embracing uncertainty: Your uncertainty can create an astonishingly productive space for curiosity, creativity, and discovery.
Jeffrey and the be radical team
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