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Inspiration for Action
The Newsletter / Edition 013
From Sylvain Labs, this is Progress Report.
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This weekly newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now. 

In today’s newsletter…
  1. An unlikely opportunity for role play from Trevor Larry
  2. Your new title as ambiguity sponge from Jillian Rosen-Filz
  3. Getting used to the unknown from Katie Driscoll
And as always, our illustrations from Katie Sadow.
From the Field

01 / Role Playing in the Boardroom 

From Trevor Larry
Our brains (according to theories of predictive processing) learn by predicting the future and comparing those predictions to reality. When our environment becomes especially volatile, our predictions go haywire and we don’t have enough time to learn before all the rules suddenly change, creating feelings of anxiety, stress, and loss of control. No wonder COVID-19 has taken such a mental toll: the critical thing our brains crave—predictability—became limited to what we could control from the comforts of our own homes amid a pandemic.
Why It Matters
Prediction and foresight are critical to every business decision, and success often rides on a mixture of luck and prescient analysis. Thankfully, true uncertainty doesn’t ever last long. As teams look for opportunities on the horizon and gather indications for where their industry is heading, finding the best path forward may require a bit of imagination.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Role play a handful of future scenarios to make uncertainty feel less daunting.
Some role playing recommendations:
  • Develop a limited number of scenarios (try to keep it under 5, eliminating redundancies).
  • Prioritize the most probable.
  • Give yourself the time to imagine the world according to each scenario.
  • Continue iterating until enough evidence surfaces that give you the confidence to pursue a strategy according to a single scenario.

02 / Absorbing Ambiguity  

From Jillian Rosen-Filz
What if, instead of dealing with ambiguity, we learned how to absorb it? Designating a leader as an ‘ambiguity absorber’ on behalf of teams or other groups might be the most direct route to collective progress. Ambiguity absorbers take uncertainty into their own hands, setting clear direction based on their understanding of what’s best for the business, regardless of their level in an organization. This allows teams to continue to work proactively around a shared purpose. And although it means making assumptions that may not always have the end-result you’d hoped for, ambiguity absorbers ensure others don’t stagnate while waiting for more information to pivot from.
Why It Matters
Not only is prolonged ambiguity hard on our brains (it’s actually a central element to most anxiety disorders), but it’s also bad for business. It can lead to a general status of inaction, if we let it: avoiding strategic investments, deferring important decisions, freezing fundamental resources. Progressing through uncertainty means fighting the urge to lay low and proactively nurturing the energy of your teams by absorbing their ambiguity, keeping them focused on the work at hand rather than the outside influences they can’t control. It’s the mark of good leadership in uncertain times. 
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Try the role of ambiguity absorber on for size.
Ideas from article source, The RBL Group, on how to become an effective ambiguity absorber:
  • Share data. Be transparent on the challenges for change and, ultimately, what you need from those around you to overcome and achieve it.
  • Make decisions in the short term. Remember that chaotic action is more efficient than orderly inaction.
  • Manage the process of decision making. Establish early-on who to involve as ambiguity absorbers, and be aware of who may naturally be ambiguity amplifiers.
  • Be clear about the criteria for decisions. Ensure team alignment on how decisions are made.
  • Frame actions and experiments as pilots. Encourage your team by firmly establishing this as a time marked by trying new things. Not everything will go as planned. 

03 / Training Your Uncertainty Muscles   

From Katie Driscoll
Long before the pandemic hit, technology had been slowly chipping away at our tolerance for dealing with uncertainty. Think about it. If you can’t remember that celebrity’s name, you Google it. If you feel lost, you open your insert-brand-name-here maps app. If you want ideas for what to do today, lists of suggestions are just a click away. In short, easy access to quick answers has left us uncomfortable with waiting. A 2016 study found that this discomfort is so strong that we would rather endure greater inevitable pain than wait and see if the pain will come.
Why It Matters
Our current moment is forcing us to exercise latent ‘uncertainty muscles.’ Between the pandemic and the presidential election, we are learning to deal with the emotions that accompany waiting, and developing grit that comes from tolerating the unknown. These skills are invaluable in the workplace where navigating ambiguity is a constant challenge. 
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Practice being comfortable not knowing.
We don’t have the luxury of going back in time to train our brains to make us more prepared for the great uncertainties of today. But we can start taking small steps to strengthen our ‘uncertainty muscles’ today to prepare future moments of waiting. Try not Googling the answer to every question. Let yourself get lost from time to time. Purchase a product that hasn’t been reviewed. These small exercises will add up over time to strengthen your tolerance for uncertainty in and outside the workplace. 

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