Uncertainty makes us sweaty

Instead of running away from uncertainty, maybe it's healthy to embrace it as fodder for innovation.

I was lucky enough to be selected to participate in the inaugural VergeNYC conference hosted by Parsons School of Design where the theme was “Action in the Face of Uncertainty.”

The question this small group of participants was there to address was this: What if we were to turn the negativity, insecurity and fear associated with uncertainty on its head? What if we leveraged uncertainty to be one of our greatest assets?

Participants worked in small groups to attack this question from a number of different angles — systems, urban policy and education to name a few. My group was assigned to explore harnassing uncertainty rather than trying to reduce or run away from it.

We used a DeRe framework developed by Ayse Birsel of Birsel + Seck, who also facilitated our group. The DeRe process involves four steps:

  • Deconstruction
  • Point of View
  • Reconstruction
  • Expression

As part of our collaboration, we explored the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects of uncertainty.

VergeNYC event video.

What I enjoyed most about this exercise and the VergeNYC conference overall was having long and deeply honest conversations with other design thinking practitioners about uncertainty. It was eye-opening to realize that what I often say to my clients is similar to what others professionals say-- that uncertainty is harrowing for we so-called experts as well, we just have more practice with it. We often feel scared and sweaty and confused during an innovative design project. But, because of experience, we have a trust and optimism that almost borders on the spiritual. We are not inured to the painful aspects associated with riding the rollercoaster of innovation — we just believe it is going to turn out great. And we are okay with getting sweaty.

I encourage you to look for a chance to participate in next year’s VergeNYC as well as IIT Institute of Design’s BarnRaise event in the fall. These two student-initiated events have taught me more than any professional events I’ve attended this year.

Click on the photo below to watch a well-produced three-minute video about the VergeNYC event.

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