When 2020 kicked off with the usual new year festivities no one was predicting that the year would unfold as it has. It’s been a year of uncertainty, change and thankfully, also hope.
It was also a reminder that despite great intentions, concrete plans and strategic foresight, there are always going to be things you can’t expect. You can plan for the ‘known knowns’, but it is tough to prepare for the ‘unknown unknowns’.
Back in 2002, at a press briefing the then US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld famously said:
“There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Now, like many things in life, the original context in which he made that comment has been forgotten. For the history buffs, he was trying to evade answering a question about the evidence the US had that Iraq was supplying terrorists with WMD.
Despite the statement’s shady history, it is a useful way to think about how you equip yourself – both personally and professionally – to be ready for whatever life throws at you; because as 2020 has so aptly demonstrated you can’t engineer uncertainty and change out of life.
When you break it down, three scenarios will eventuate:
- Known knowns – these are issues and events that you can identify, analyse and precisely determine how to best respond in advance. You will typically have facts and data to help back up your case and approach.
- Known unknowns – these are the issues and events that you know may happen, but you don’t yet have the knowledge, information or process to be able to manage effectively. Facing this scenario is about questioning, gathering information and learning so you can work out how to best respond.
- Unknown and Unknowns – these are issues and events that you can’t predict will happen; commonly known as Black Swan events. Being ready for such events isn’t about building the detailed plan, it is much more about your readiness to change, your willingness to respond rapidly and your resilience to see tough times through. It is building the behavioural and leadership skills so you are adaptable.
As we head into 2021, being ready for all three scenarios is critical.
As the noted historian, Dr Yuval Noah Harari said: “In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products but above all to reinvent yourself over and over again“.
This year, many of us have had to do that – reinvent and adapt quickly. Through all of this, there have been multiple opportunities for learning and growth; some of which has been harder than others. However, it is often in those tough times that you discover the best of who you are, and the best of who the people around you are.
As this is the last of weekly messages for 2020, thank you for taking the time each week to read my musings.
Thank you to all my wonderful clients who I have had the joy of working with throughout the year. It is such a pleasure to work with you.
To the amazing Lisa, who supports me, thank you for all your do. And as always, a huge thank you to my husband, Craig, who puts up with my ponderings, wonderings and sometimes slightly crazy ideas.
Oh…and I can’t forget Barney (if I did, someone would remind me). Thanks for faithfully sitting and sleeping on the couch throughout the working year. Good to see you working so hard, yet again!
To all of you have a wonderful time over this very special time of year. See you in 2021.