THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE

Five reasons why inactivity is not an option.

We live in uncertain times and balancing social and business growth with sustainability has never been more vital to the longevity of humankind. In January 2017, the UK Government’s UK Climate Change Risk Assessment acknowledged that climate change is not a distant notion, but something that is happening now. The same report documented that UK temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius and that UK sea levels are rising by 3mm per year. As a result, the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan was cited as, ‘one example of how we are building climate adaptation into our plans and investments to ensure that we are resilient for the future’.

 

In times of uncertainty our reaction is often to do nothing – to plan but not to act.  So is that our best option today – to wait and see what happens next?  In this post I set out the key reasons why taking the right action now has never been more important.

  1. We Suffer More from Ignorance than Uncertainty

It may seem to us at the moment that we live with the greatest uncertainties ever, but the reality is very different.  While change and disruption may be common place, we can be more certain of outcomes than any previous period in history, as we have access to far more data, analysis and precedent.  Of course, what we choose to actually access, and what we do with the information when we have it are very different matters.

The reverse is true of ignorance.  There’s a temptation to think of villagers in the dark ages surrounded by woods with no knowledge of events outside a 10 mile radius as “ignorant”, however they lacked the information on which to act.  In fact it is us, armed with the information but choosing not to act on it, who are truly ignorant.

We can reduce uncertainty by arming ourselves with the right information, but to avoid ignorance we have to accept that having the information gives us a responsibility to act.

  1. We Need to Prioritise Actions Which Benefit “Us”

As a species we are very often guilty of defining ourselves by identifying our differences from others, rather than our similarities to them.  At its most basic level we need to extend out from a purely selfish view of what affects me, not just to family, friends and colleagues but to a greater world view.

This is not a simple ask.  To define us as all the inhabitants of the planet requires a huge cognitive, cultural and attitudinal shift.  Placing “planet” in our thinking at a personal, group and business level is essential, however, if we are to make the changes necessary to keep the world viable for future generations.

  1. Time Can’t Heal an Escalating Problem

The reason that a fundamental shift is needed now is quite simply that we continue to make the problems worse.  From climate change to pollution to population growth and food shortages, the situation will not improve without action on the part of individuals, businesses and governments.

Our actions are directly causing the problems, so our actions are needed to bring about more positive outcomes.

  1. It’s the Selfish Economy, Stupid

Money matters.  Promoting an agenda which ignores an individual’s aspirations for improvement in personal circumstances or a business’ drive to make profits is naive and ultimately unlikely to succeed.

Equally if we continue to pursue goals which are based purely on the acquisition of material wealth and EBITDA growth we are promoting activities and behaviours that are incredibly damaging for ourselves, society and the environment.

Ultimately it’s a question of balance.  Px3’s priorities of people, planet and profit exist in that order for a reason.  From a sustainable leadership perspective our people must be our first priority, and we need to encourage them to consider what we can all change to reduce harm to the planet.  If we can do these two things and make the organisation more cost effective, more productive and more efficient then we believe that is a goal worth investing in.

  1. We Must Become Our Own Heroes

Humankind has made huge impacts on our planet and has assumed the role of rightful owner without taking any of the associated responsibilities.  Today we idolise and celebrate those who achieve success in business, culture, sport and politics.

We must take a longer, wider view.  Success is not embodied in others, and responsibility for the planet does not rest elsewhere.  A fundamental shift is needed to take joyful ownership of “making a difference” in every decision, whether business or personal.

The uncertainty of our current situation needs to drive us to take positive action based on the information we already have and to seek new information to make better decisions in the future.

About the author:
Ewen Anderson is CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve the efficiency and ecological impact of their ICT operations. Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership. Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.

 

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