Working With Uncertainty In Our Organisations

I recently spent time talking with Ross Dickie and James McLuckie from Good Practice, about working with uncertainty. The conversation will be released on their podcast soon. Even thought uncertainty is all around us all the time, the very nature of it means we tend to shy away from working with it, often preferring to seek to exercise control instead (which bizarrely, often seems to lead to even more of the stuff).

One of the questions James raised in our conversation was how can we help people move past that reluctance? It’s a good question, and I was reminded of some work done by Stephanie Barnes and Age of Artists, who developed a framework to help make it easier to engage with uncertainty. I’ve drawn a version* of it here:

Stephanie wrote a really useful piece on how to engage with and explore this framework, and has kindly agreed to me reproducing her work here.

“The framework works from the outside in towards the middle, using artistic practices and attitudes to offer alternative responses to business challenges. In the model, the organisational situation appears on the left-hand side, while the artistic practices and attitudes are on the right. Possible transformational activities connect the two sides and allow the artistic activities to act upon the situations on the left side.

such as dealing with a market, that are complex, changing quickly, uncertain,
or volatile are all considered. The traditional response in these situations
might be to try to simplify things, in the case of complexity; slow them down,
in the case of acceleration; control them, when they are uncertain; or approach
them with resistance in the case of volatility. However, by using artistic
practices and attitudes in a transformational approach, we can move our organisations
to a place which can provide a more balanced, engaged result. We can have
diversity instead of simplicity; a sense of purpose instead of deceleration;
autonomy in the place of control; and elasticity rather than numerous rules and
exceptions, in the case of volatility. 

In adapting
a creative mindset, and applying artistic practices to an organisational
situation, we start by identifying the business problem we are trying to solve,
then decide which practice we want to start with: perceiving, reflecting, creating,
or performing. We can start with any of the activities and move through the
others as part of the process of arriving at the response/resolution of the

In arriving
at a resolution, it often helps if we adopt artistic attitudes, like curiosity
(asking why five times, or challenging assumptions), being passionate about
what we are working on, being confident there is a solution, and being
resilient enough to bounce back when we experience failures or set-backs. The
persistence which develops through these activities is often key to finding a

Artists across all genres display a particular artistic
attitude, that is increasingly and highly relevant in other disciplines as
well. This attitude often consists of:

Curiosity. A general readiness to perceive, receive and to learn.
Position. Holding a personal belief that is articulated with integrity.
Passion. Pursuing what matters with initiative, determination, courage and persistence.
Resilience. Appreciating uncertainty, flexible towards change, robust in conflict and crisis.
Transcendence. Ability to surpass limitations of ego and self-interest in order to create something new.

Curiosity, position, passion, resilience, and transcendence
often characterise artists – and these things are clearly not exclusive to
them. Everyone can develop several or all of these features since they will
emerge through the ongoing artistic practices in which a person engages over

Artistic Practice is a non-linear, iterative process that consists
of recurring creative patterns that can be observed across most or all art
genres and that are applicable to other disciplines. This process includes:

Perceiving. Observing, Listening, Communicating, Exploring, Collecting, Sensing.
Reflecting. Abstracting, Deconstructing, Reframing, Ideating, Challenging, Contemplating, Reasoning.
Playing. Experimenting, Composing, Improvising, Bricolage, Cooperating, Designing, Rehearsing, Doubting, Critique, Orchestrating.
Performing. Creating awareness, Stimulating emotions, Evoking meaning, Inspiring.

Going through this process will enable people to eventually build and extend generic skills in addition to their core expertise.

Acquiring perception skills.
Gaining mindfulness and understanding.
Learning problem solving, design and collaborative creation.
Understanding how to create awareness, stimulate emotion, and evoke meaning.

Artistic attitude and artistic process amplify each other. An artistic attitude enables experiencing the artistic process more profoundly and as a result leads to higher competence levels. Going through the artistic process can change your attitude.”

There are other artistic ways to embrace uncertainty too, including the excellent draw for the bin method, and for those who like a little more structure, at least at the start of the exploration, I think that what Stephanie and Age of Artists have come up with, is very useful.

*Since I drew the sketch, a new version of the framework has emerged, helping to demonstrate the changeable nature of work. In addition, Age of Artists have published a book, Creative Company (currently available in German – English translation expected later in 2019), which describes some of their research in greater detail.

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