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  • Mark Berridge

Two ideas that may help you embrace uncertainty to liberate possibility - 16 August 2022


Every time I talk about my adversity journey the interactions spark self-reflection. What resonated, what may not have. What can I learn from the questions.


Last week I was the guest speaker at EST10's masterclass session. A question caused me to reflect on the tension between stability and ambiguity, a balance that always warrants consideration, given that I espouse a bias towards embracing uncertainty.


That reflection took me back to some stimulus that I have utilised to shape my thinking. Concepts that I learned during a change management session in the mid-2000s, in the midst of a massive and difficult corporate integration. The teaching covered how great companies (leaders, employees) employ systems and thoughts that are "clockware" and "swarmware"; terms attributed to author Kevin Kelly. Somehow I always misremember the second concept as "stormware" - I reckon I can make a case how that term could be equally applicable. :)


In an organisational sense, clockware represents the controlled. Rational, planned, standardised, repeatable and measurable action. On a personal level let's set this as the foundations of who we are (values, identity) and some fundamental needs (safety, love, purpose).


Swarmware is the manner that we promote and pursue new possibilities, through experimentation, creative and operational freedom, intuition. It is enabled by working at or beyond the edge of our knowledge and comfort.


These concepts reflect the tension between stability and ambiguity. Allowing a balance - that shifts with situational need - between our clockware and swarmware facilitates growth. The concept resonated for me based on my view that our circumstances are in constant change, where only the apparent extent of change varies from moment to moment.


Organisations that don't facilitate progression regularly lose relevance as time and technology (or other factors) pass them by. The term "disruption" relating to various industries sees new entrants with vastly different clockware and swarmware practices and/or attitudes usurping incumbents.


Bringing the discussion back to a personal level. When we are in a difficult or sub-optimal situation from which we wish to extract ourselves, we need to facilitate progress or growth. In my language, this is embracing uncertainty to liberate possibility.


To truly embrace uncertainty, we must differentiate our aspirations from our sense of success. When we decouple our aspirations from success we are more willing to elevate those aspirations. We are more willing to try and fail. To heed Michelangelo:

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it

The scope for our aspirations can be like the galaxy. Infinite. They might be a range of outcomes, a staircase of steps, an intention. They should motivate us to grow, to tackle the unknown, the ambiguous. To seek possibility imagined, and that part of possibility currently unimaginable, which only becomes apparent with progress.


To permit our aspirations to be so vast, we must decouple our sense of success from being dependent on reaching them. We can set, measure and reward our success based on attitude and effort - things we can control - as well as progress towards or achievement of our aspirations.


Success straddles both clockware and swarmware. We can define success such that it encourages us to see and pursue possibility, as well as remaining grounded. It could be visualised as a tall tree with many branches.


A tree needs strong foundations. My foundations come from:

  • accepting my situation. My energy is best placed trying to change my future rather than lamenting my current circumstances. I rationalise that both our situation and our "acceptance" of it are a perception. I permit ambiguity - there is more value to look forward and grow than perfecting my view of the current.

  • acknowledging my situation is not unique. I think there is strength in numbers. If I can identify people facing similar challenges I am less likely to feel lonely or lament. I am more likely to embrace uncertainty and pursue growth when I visualise others doing so.

  • practising gratitude. Perhaps the most powerful ways to stay grounded as we strive for something more or different is to remain appreciative of what we have. It helps extend that staircase of success. It reinforces our ability to celebrate even our smallest successes (gains). This doesn't mean that we have to settle for no improvement, but it does enable us to strive without tangible gain. And if we are to truly embrace uncertainty, on occasion it will be hard to identify tangible gain, no matter how hard we strived. Nothing made me more grateful than the love and support of my family.


In summary, my two ideas to support striving into the unknown are:

- see your aspirations and success as different measures. They may intersect at a point, but they are separate concepts.

- ensure that you sustain your foundations: I use acceptance, acknowledgement and gratitude to keep myself grounded.

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