radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Steering Through Ambient Uncertainty.

Sep 26, 2023

Recently, I had the unique privilege of both listening to and spending time with Maurice “Maury” Obstfeld, former Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund. At a shared speaking engagement, Maury offered a comprehensive view of the current global economic landscape and his predictions for the future. He coined the phrase “ambient uncertainty” to depict the ongoing state of flux that we all find ourselves in—today and going forward.

Ambient uncertainty is fast becoming the status quo, propelled by a confluence of rapid advancements in AI, geopolitical fluctuations like the U.S.-China tension, and the looming existential threat of climate change. In this setting, traditional risk assessment tools and decision-making models fall short. AI is not merely automating tasks but revolutionizing entire sectors, sparking ethical questions and fueling debates about job loss and social disparities. On the geopolitical front, the dynamics between the U.S. and China are reshaping global supply chains, tech standards, and alliances. Concurrently, climate change adds another layer of unpredictable volatility, impacting everything from corporate sustainability initiatives to mass migration. These factors intersect in intricate ways, making a single-dimensional approach impractical.

For leaders navigating this maze, cognitive agility is essential. This entails the ability to toggle between various modes of thinking and to synthesize diverse information streams. It moves beyond a ‘fixed’ mindset that relies on familiar solutions for unfamiliar challenges, allowing for strategic adaptations to evolving conditions. This agility extends to emotional resilience, encompassing the capability to manage stress, sustain morale, and make ethically informed choices when under duress.

Additionally, leaders need to develop ‘systemic empathy,’ a heightened form of situational awareness that goes beyond understanding human emotions to grasping the driving forces and limitations in intricate systems. This perspective sees one’s organization not in isolation but as a component of a broader ecosystem, influenced by geopolitical currents, technological evolutions, and environmental factors.

In summary, resilience and a capacity for embracing uncertainty are crucial. Navigating through ambient uncertainty is neither a straightforward nor predictable journey. Leaders capable of maintaining their balance and steering their teams through unforeseen challenges are the ones most likely to not just survive but excel in this emerging landscape. (via Pascal)