Adapting, learning and growing through uncertainty

It’s almost five years since my husband, two dogs, and our pussycat relocated back to Melbourne, Australia, after spending six years living and working in the Middle East, where adapting to uncertainty was a way of life. Where we initially landed in a fog of disruptive change that settled into every fibre of our being. That was before we realized and accepted that adapting, learning, and growing through uncertainty could be full of possibilities for reskilling, reinventing in, and thriving in a world that would never be the same again. For me, it was an opportunity to adapt, learn, and grow in a radically different innovation and entrepreneurship space that ultimately became a significant turning point, both professionally and personally.

Similar to today’s uncertain global situation, where C-19, is causing all of us to retreat from our business as usual activities and to operate, for many of us, solo, in unknown and volatile territories. Whilst still somehow hoping that we can still retain our status quo conditions, including our relevant qualifications, current jobs, and even our family and personal situations which existed pre-coronavirus, when our lives go back to normal, whenever that might be!

In a recent blog Singularity University asked the key question we all now have the chance to retreat, reflect upon and consider:

“But what if life never fully goes back to how it was pre-coronavirus? What if this epidemic is a turning point, and after it the world is never the same?

More importantly – or, at least, more optimistically – what if the world could come out of this crisis better than it was before?”

Adapting, learning and growing through uncertainty

Uncertainty involves an inability to forecast or predict the future or what might happen next, where unpredictable, random events surprisingly appear, and we don’t know how to understand or make sense of them. Uncertainty is the U in the term VUCA and makes the majority of people feel really tense, as well as really uncomfortable. This is because it impacts us at a neurological level, causing conflict and results in what we call – cognitive dissonance.  Where people become psychologically uncomfortable, anxious, confused, and conflicted:

“This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a belief of a person clashes with new evidence perceived by that person. When confronted with facts that contradict personal beliefs, ideals, and values, people will find a way to resolve the contradiction in order to reduce their discomfort”.

Meaning that we are at the effect (or mercy) of our unconscious inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as they relate to the behavioural decisions and attitude changes, we need to make to survive and thrive in the unpredictable C-19 world.

People are feeling overwhelmed

Cognitive dissonance affects our autonomic nervous systems, which operate largely automatically and outside of our conscious awareness and control. It impacts on our whole being – physically emotionally and cognitively.  It is also where the challenges to the massive changes the C-19 pandemic is causing are impacting us, neurologically, emotionally, viscerally, and cognitively, making us to feel confused, conflicted, and overwhelmed.

We are now faced with the uncertainty of the C-19 pandemic and are collapsing into a range of differing yet, normal, human reactive responses including:

  • Fearful survival states (“I/we can control this”) and some of us head off to the supermarket to buy toilet paper and other staples.
  • Avoidance states (“she’ll be right”) and some of us head off to crowded Bondi Beach for the day and ignore, delete or deny the information, to move away from the pain or discomfort the messages ‘not to’ may cause us.
  • Compliance states (“I/we will comply”) where some of us do what we are told to do, become immobilized, stay home, and socially isolate ourselves.
  • Create distortions; (“I/we will all die”) where some of us exaggerate and make the dangers bigger, more radical, important, dangerous that what it really might be.
  • Disconfirm the data (“it won’t happen here”) where some of us resist and oppose a different point of view because it does not confirm their core beliefs and points of view.
  • Reassure ourselves (“I/we will survive this”) where some of us seek assurance from others, especially expert opinions, to validate or justify what we believe to be true.
  • Re-evaluate the situation realistically (“I/we can manage our response”) where some of us re-evaluate or change the importance of existing, new ideas and facts, and plan accordingly.

Pulling people towards possibilities

It is important, in uncertain situations like these, that we are intentional, by using our locus of power to PULL others we interact with, towards making key proactive changes they need to make to feel more secure, survive and thrive as a result of the current C-19 pandemic.

By taking what innovation coaches call, a “whole person perspective”; involving being attentional, empathic, and intentional in pulling people towards a positive, post-VUCA future and enabling people to adapt, learn and grow within the constraints of the current reality.

Through understanding that people are wired to function as a whole system, governed by a series of factors, which neurologically impact on our four normal, core human structures;

  1. Cognition – how we perceive, think, and make meaning.
  2. Feeling – how we emote, what we value, and how we relate.
  3. Willing – how we identify and preserve ourselves and mobilize ourselves to act.
  4. Body – how we actually do mobilize and act.

By knowing how to,

  • firstly, deeply connect with people, anytime, anyplace, through any technology,
  • and secondly, create a safe container for an authentic and creative individual or team conversation to occur, to maximize differences and diversity,
  • thirdly, use our generative listening and inquiring skills to PULL individuals and teams towards the possibility of better, brighter, and more compelling futures.

Which may be a turning point for themselves professionally and personally, or for their families, once the pandemic crisis has ultimately ended.

Mastering uncertainty by accessing multiple intelligences

  1. Cognition (head) = make sure to take the time to be informed, and to clearly communicate what’s really going on globally right now (acknowledge and eliminate all of the deletions and distortions). Ensure that people are being objective, rational, and are able to make sense of it and that they have a responsibility to act purposefully with it. By helping them create a vivid picture or vision of how their family, job, or world might be better as a result of the C-19 crisis and pandemic. 
  2. Emotion (heart) = make sure to be compassionate and create values-based connections with the people you connect with. Seek to inspire others, and ignite feelings of excitement around the range of future possibilities, opportunities, and benefits that may arise in a post C-19 world. Help will build their receptivity, readiness to engage in and collaborate with others, and learn from, making their desired changes.
  3. Will (gut) = create a safe and secure environment where people feel psychologically safe and wanting to learn. Where they are trusted and respected and have permission to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them when operating in uncertainty. (no blame, shame, envy or retribution).
  4. Body (actions) = help people mobilize, harness and maximize their potential, see and solve problems, make effective decisions that result in intelligent behaviours and actions, and learn “on the job’ by playing and doing.

Now is the time to plan and build our own and our collective futures differently

As stated by Singularity University“We need to recognize a new locus of power,” Metzl said. “And it’s us. Nobody is going to solve this for us. This is our moment to really come together.”

Adapting, learning, and growing through uncertainty is full of possibilities for reskilling, reinventing in and thriving in the future. Because it offers all of us a professional and personal turning point in using our locus of power to connect, collaborate, and co-create a better world.

Find out about The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting May 25, 2020. It is a blended learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centered approach to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more.

Contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt, and grow your business in the digital age.

Janet Sernack

Janet is the Founder of ImagineNationâ„¢ a coaching, education & culture consulting company who leads the way and helps businesses achieve their innovation goals by challenging businesses to be, think & act differently to create a world where people matter & innovation is the norm.




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