Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

Author: Michelle Russell       


Convening Leaders speaker and former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard AC talked about how leaders need to be unafraid to say, “I don’t know” in front of their teams.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell

I’m writing this column shortly after Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the U.S. government’s top public health experts, held his first news briefing under the new administration, within days of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. We are still in the grip of the pandemic, a grim fact Dr. Fauci doesn’t sugar coat, but there is a marked change in his demeanor — in fact, side-by-side videos on social media compare his thinly disguised discomfort at press conferences under the previous administration to his visible ease now. He seems lighter, despite the fact he shoulders an enormous responsibility.

Dr. Fauci is circumspect, but he does share the difference in the culture between the two administrations, telling reporters, “The idea that you can get up and talk about what you know, what the evidence is, what the science is, it is somewhat of a liberating feeling.” And this: “One of the new things about this administration is that if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Just say you don’t know the answer.”

There are still many unknowns about the coronavirus itself, and then there are unknowns about how it will continue to impact business, work, travel — you name it — this year. Living in these uncertain times has taught us to be more comfortable with not having the answers for many of the things we were so certain of before.

As someone in the habit of thinking that not having all the answers meant that I just hadn’t prepared enough or thought far enough ahead, not being sure about future plans is something I’ve come to embrace. At the same time, I try to educate myself on how the recovery might unfold and what big changes are in store for us by absorbing as much as I can from sources I trust.

In one of my favorite Convening Leaders sessions, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard AC talked about how leaders need to be unafraid to say, “I don’t know” in front of their teams. “Obviously, there wasn’t much of a market for doing it publicly — you couldn’t go out to a press conference and say, ‘I don’t know,’ because that would create a political crisis,” she said. “I actually wish we gave our political leaders a bit more space in that regard.”

Decisions still need to be made in the face of uncertainties, and that requires that we take the time to get to a stage where we feel comfortable making them, Gillard said. We need to carve out time to do deep thinking — she called it “going into the cone of silence.”

Our days are a constant battle between “the urgent and the important,” Gillard said. “This is an era that privileges the urgent because we can be on our devices instantaneously,” she said, but “it’s incredibly important to win yourself” that time for deep thinking “and then use it wisely.”

Gillard concluded her session with this sage advice: “This is a year where we put into practice some hard lessons we learned in 2020 to achieve long-term change for the better. It’s an opportunity. Don’t miss it.”

Past, Present, Future

Speaking of hard lessons learned, don’t miss our story, “What Business Events Pros Learned in 2020,” where events industry professionals tell us what they wish they had done prior to 2020 to be better prepared for the COVID crisis and what they’ll be doing to future-proof their organizations.

As Convening Leaders speaker Peter Hinssen said, things change so quickly now that we need to be operating more in “lessons learning” mode — lessons learned is more of a luxury.

We’ve heard over and over again that when it comes to virtual exhibit halls, the struggle is real. In our February CMP Series story, “The Challenge of Virtualizing Trade Shows and Exhibit Halls,” industry practitioners share their own lessons learning: how they are making the experience — for exhibitors, attendees, and their organizations — better. Or at least different.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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