How to leverage uncertainty and save the world!

At the closing of COP21 in Paris, an important commitment to curb carbon emissions was reached. This has laid bare a need for innovative solutions that could help mitigate the uncertain conditions that surround the operationalisation of this agreement. A process that I believe could be facilitated by a cultural shift in our businesses into more sustainable models.

Initial barriers

Uncertainty is dreadful in business. Decisions hinge on assumptions about products and customers’ behaviour. And, the cost of failure can easily dissuade people from taking risks. However, risks are an intrinsic part of innovating, in breaking new ground by disrupting existing business models and bringing change into our lives. Working with imperfect knowledge or assumptions pushed me into learning ways to make change management a part of my work.

Learning as a tool

I came across new ways to deal with uncertainty, when I started working in a start-up. Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup became an important influence. At first, what resonated with me the most was the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.

 

The process by which we are constantly testing our assumptions through a minimum viable product (MVP). This is similar to the design thinking process with which I have had work for a great part of my career in the construction industry. Later, I began to see the potential impact of this method in an organisational structure and culture. In tandem, my colleagues, veterans in the technology sector, helped me embrace uncertainty by introducing me into the agile culture.

Agile had been around for awhile as a set of principles to guide the software development process through various methodologies, such as Kanban or Scrum. These have represented important organisational cultural shifts by promoting cross-functional teams to self-organise and self-manage their processes. Also, these techniques trust the learning process in the development of products in an efficient and transparent fashion.

The way ahead

The qualities that makes agility a powerful organisational management paradigm rest upon the people that use it:

  • Cross functional teams guarantee that the product will be develop with its full life cycle in mind.
  • Team engagement and empowerment validate decision-making.

These, together, allow us to view the uncertainty ahead as an opportunity to disrupt business as usual and innovate for a sustainable future.