The Uncertainty Mindset

Published: September 29, 2020 at 5:56 PM

I love a big, juicy "five dollar" word. I daresay I'm even a fan of jargon, if sometimes just as an outdated cultural artifact (“tech disruption” anyone? bahaha). Being a word nerd was a little rough as a kid, but later I’d be criticized for coming off as condescending, which is harder to hear than just accusations of having my nose buried in a book at all times. So I have attempted in my dotage, to refrain from bellicose rhetoric for fear of being seen as a pedantic dilettante...

I kid, I kid. No one talks that well as I do. OK BUT SERIOUSLY, friends. Over time, and after working as a translator for decades, I've learned that the best words need little explanation, and these days, with so few guiltless pleasures in the world for us to enjoy professionally, I live for the simpler phrases because they signify the most massive ideas.

Well, today, I have a new favorite phrase. A phrase I just learned a couple days ago from our board member and polymath Mary Yee.

Like "intersectionality" before it, this word sort of blows me away in its simple completeness. It's self-explanatory and revolutionary. Here's how the scholars at UPENN's Project for Mental Health and Optimal Development define it:

Sociologist Vaughn Tan promotes an "uncertainty mindset" as a way of injecting uncertainty into organizational design to spur innovation.

Injecting uncertainty into organizational design.

Wow. Purposely making uncertainty a part of your planning. There’s a lot more to this strategy of “expecting the unexpected,” and an Uncertainty Mindset feels more forgiving than being told to forget about “returning back to normal.” I want, and invite all of us, to embrace a “state of intentional inquiry underpinned by dialogue, climate and equity” (citation: “Planning for Uncertainty: An Educator’s Guide to Navigating the COVID-19 Era” PDF).

If I’m getting this right, Uncertainty used proactively requires we continue communicating with each other. So here’s me initiating an inquiry by sharing the uncertainties that inform our organizational development today:

How do we support public works while participating in initiatives for systems change.

Whether we address competing conflicts in order of urgency or order of relevance.

What’s better for slow cooking: soy sauce or fish sauce?

How might we incorporate uncertainty in the fruitful planning of our future?



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