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The Age of Uncertainty

This morning I read a piece by Brian Eno in which he explained his reasons for optimism in 2017. His main point was that 2016 was maybe a watershed year - the culmination of 40 years of moral and emotional erosion. From here on in, he suggests, things may start to get better.

As Eno says: “Last year people started waking up... A lot of them, in their anger, grabbed the nearest Trump-like object and hit the Establishment over the head with it.” “…people are rethinking what democracy means, what society means and what we need to do to make them work again.”

Instinctively, I feel there’s truth in what he’s saying, but, to be honest, I’ve no way of knowing. Beyond all the weird and disconcerting things that happened in 2016, the most unsettling of all was my own growing sense of uncertainty.

Like most of us, I was brought up with that Western rational certainty that intelligence overcomes ignorance, science beats superstition and all the rest of it. I’ve lived in that comfortable assumption most of my life. But I also know this isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes bad ideas win.More than anything, though, I know that doubt and uncertainty are the drivers of progress. We have to imagine things differently if we want to move forward. Fixed ideas are limiting. The status quo resists change. All that stuff about having to feel uncomfortable in order to get to insights...

So while I’m anxious about what happens next, I also embrace the opportunity uncertainty offers. The result may be better than we think. If you need proof, then ask the members of Leicester City Football Club and The Chicago Cubs Baseball Team what thinking differently looks like.

In 1977 John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a book called “The Age of Uncertainty" ‘to reflect the sharp contrast between the great certainty in 19th-century economic thought with the much less assured views in modern times.’ Nobody can predict the future in these chaotic times and we should be skeptical of those who say they can. If they're hoping their Victorian ideas of certainty are going to do it for them, they're in for a surprise.In 2017 it’s time we expanded Galbraith's definition of uncertainty to include a wider sweep of human behaviour - and not see it as necessarily a bad thing.We are living in uncertain times but uncertainty brings progress.

Let's embrace that in everything we do and raise a cup of kindness yet to Leicester City and The Chicago Cubs while we're at it.

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