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"omnipresence," 1570s, from Modern Latin ubiquitas, from Latin ubique "everywhere. Etymyonline.
The difference between uncertainty and certainty is the story we tell ourselves. for those, like the markets, heavily invested in the idea of certainty, the stories they tell themselves are generated via an appetite for forecasts, even as we know forecasts are nonsense at the best of times. We reinforce our belief in forecasts by making sacrifices to them when they fail to materialise, normally via the public defenestration of a CEO onto a cushion of money and a quiet, less cushioned sacrifice of jobs in the hope that the forecasts will be appeased. They never are, of course, even for those who exhibit a temporary dead cat bounce. Once the magic has been used up, it rarely returns, and the markets leave searching for new magic.
Uncertainty is such a party-pooper. We try to tame it by giving it neat names, like “VUCA” and “Complexity”, as though if we label them, we somehow tame them, and can contain them by using “road maps” or “scenario planning” where we can convince ourselves that our current way of working just needs tuning a little, and all will be well. We don’t need to worry about the temporary problems of resource depletion, climate change, inequality or biodiversity loss; we just need to tweak the models a little, and certainty will reappear.
The perspective changes when we make uncertainty the default. The moment we do that, things change. The prime currency of survival in uncertainty is trust - and its underpinning qualities of commitment, caring, consistency and competence. Creating and running enterprises that make money for those who are truly invested in them rather than as vehicles for clever clickbait storytelling by intermediaries pursuing unicorns.
Money follows trust over time, not the other way around. Which a quick look at the literature on the components of trust - commitment, caring, consistency and competence - suggests the outlook is less than rosy. As I’m writing this, the commentary from the Covid inquiry is scrolling across another screen, and it’s stretching credibility to believe that the heart of Government is an exception to the behaviours, principles and motivations in other large, increasingly complex organisations.
There’s an interesting article in this week’s Economist (paywall) about businesses in India, which. for a variety of reasons, are following a very different model to Unicors, based on simple principles of steady growth, little or no external financing, committed stakeholders and a preference for boring business well executed. There’s nothing new about it. Jugaad is a Hindi work covering expressing the idea of the “frugal hack” - a combination of craft and thrift recognisable to most artisans. It is not quick and is hard work, but will make you and those you work with rich enough for more not to matter except for the psychotic.
There is much to be said for the qualities of craft, thrift and trust in a world that has always been and will always be uncertain. Occupying the space just beyond the known, but in touch with it will outperform space shots over the long run. In a timely post, Roger Martin reminds us how we might think about this in his Medium post this week.
The question for us is where we might find the commitment, caring and consistency where we can practice our craft.
That thought is on my mind and a question I will be returning to. It challenges, I think, our conventional notion of relationships with work.
A late reminder - November has sort of crept up on me. I’ll be opening up the New Artisans Zoom this evening at 6:00pm UK (note we changed our clocks on Sunday) and hope to see you.