Present thoughts, Sunday Reverie

Personal Mastery during Uncertainty

We all are intelligent emotional beings. This makes us special, because we can adopt, learn, unlearn and evolve. It’s not we don’t face uncertainty in life. However, most of the uncertainties of life are overlooked. Let me give a simple example. The probability of a bicycle failure is far less compared to an aero plane. However, we fear the most when we ride a bicycle on highway, because of the uncertainty of situation with respect to other drivers like a car, truck or van etc.

So, we assume those with least importance. Hence, we evolved ourselves as masters of pattern. We were educated that everything is good as long as we follow a certain pattern. The pattern is by repetition. This is called as habit. For example, from brushing our teeth in the morning, till we go back to bed on a regular week, we follow various time stamps throughout the day.

What misses, in this pattern is excellence? Pattern helps to forecast one’s mode of action, which was so important during industrial revolution. As it was manufacturing driven, people were modelled to follow a pattern. But in a knowledge driven economy, though pattern helps you have a compliance with respect to your work, excellence play an important role. Excellence means those small improvements which you do regularly over a period of time. This elevates you with respect to your workmanship. Treat your work as delivering an art.

During our regular working environment, the standard office hours we try to excel in our work. Because there was a certainty towards our job, work environment even life for that matter. But how do we focus and excel during uncertainty. How do we achieve personal mastery during uncertainty? When we are drowned in uncertainty paradox.

To answer this, we need to delve deep into a relatable past history. The specialty of history is, it has all the reference points for us to check. The interpretation is up to us. Let’s look into the history of World War II.

During the time of World War II, there was complete uncertainty. Raising from the loss of control in World War I, Germany was forming its alliances as well as capturing territories. WWII can be a classic case of Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). The term VUCA was taken from the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus – to describe or to reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.

  1. V = Volatility: the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  2. U = Uncertainty: the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  3. C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organization.
  4. A = Ambiguity: the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

(Reference from Wikipedia for VUCA)

In such a scenario, the question raises in one’s mind is how the leaders navigated during these times? What would have been the traits of those leaders? Are there any learnings, that we can be adopted in our uncertainty times? Well, there are plenty. From those, I chose to present the top ten. The top ten, which can be an evergreen trait for personal mastery. Be it in your personal life or professional life or public life, these ten principles can elevate your game.

The ten gems of Personal Mastery are

  1. Always exhibit optimism.
  2. Own your responsibility
  3. Never give up
  4. Serve not Survive
  5. Think about Yourself
  6. Learn how to learn
  7. Art of Journaling
  8. The Influence of Words
  9. Moral Clarity
  10. Personal Courage

Always exhibit optimism

The best soldier the world has ever seen was General Marshall from Allied forces. According to him,

“When conditions are difficult, the command is depressed, and everyone seems critical and pessimistic, you must be especially cheerful and optimistic.”

General Marshall

Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive good things and good people will be drawn to you. Being optimistic is contagious in nature. Try being optimistic and see for yourself. You would be surprised to know, the kind of impact you leave on others, just being optimistic.

Fake it until you do it. When you feel your positivity is down or not naturally coming, pretend. Pretend as if its true. Acceptance of your own self is most important. Once you had acknowledged yourself, you would see, the optimism sprouts slowly as a shower. Use it to fight your mental stress or tiredness etc. Be positive. Be energetic. Show it in your voice. In your actions. You will soon realize the amount of impact it leaves on you and the people around you.

Own your responsibility

During the World War II, there was too much of chaos. The synergy wasn’t so strong and at the ground it was evident. But the success, was due to the ground forces. Though they were far from the strategy team. Their communication most of the times were hampered by the Axis forces. However, they had one common trait. They all owned their responsibility. Though there was uncertainty, ambiguity, they owned their responsibility. Every day, their only task was to inch closer to axis territory, with loyalty and humility.

The price of greatness is responsibility.

Winston Churchill

During the times of uncertainty, the best thing to do, let’s go behind our tasks. Knock the tasks one task at a time. This brings us focus and a sense of achievement. The more we own our responsibility; we gain traction and start to excel. Because, responsibility brings focus.

Never give up

Every day of WW II was like a perceived failure. The moment our perception looks in that direction, we feel to give up. General Marshall advices never give up. Never ever give up to the perception of failure. The persistence and quick adoption to every day scenario makes one successful.

Thus, built the attitude of never give up. There can be fatigue. There can loss of interest. There can be lethargy. In the times of volatility, let’s keep our focus to our task. Bring a routine. Make a plan and execute it. Repetition kills remiss. Start small. Regularly, let’s complete our task. Expand, explore and elevate.

Serve not Survive

One of the dilemma’s that gets into our mind during the tough times of complexity is how can I survive. The moment, we get into this thought, we lose our intent to empower ourselves. The foremost important things to do is to empower oneself. The way you can achieve this is by distracting our thoughts to our passion. Learn to serve our passion. Our interest. Our hobbies. Server yourself with empowerment. Not just to survive.

Your fear is 100% dependent on you for its survival

A small direction alignment, in the mind can change our course completely. We can feel we are uplifted. That energy shall be radiant enough, to spread to our near and dear ones. It’s that intent to distract oneself from the mode of survival to serve oneself. The moment we empower our self, we will start to empower others.

Think about Yourself

The most poignant thought is we never look into us. We always try to look into others. But it’s of utmost importance to look into ourselves. To be an observer. As an observer, of oneself, we can understand our traits and falls. Our strengths and weakness. The practice of looking at oneself, can be a way to groom oneself better.

The habits that we need to follow. The one’s we need to leave. When you don’t spend time with yourself, you are not going to know why you lack certain traits. Understanding about oneself, by themselves can be the greatest strength. That strength can build with your empathy for others.

Unless, we don’t do this, we will always be influenced by the situations and surroundings. We will never control ourselves to the repercussion of these events.

Learn how to learn

The greatest personalities who navigated through the tough times, were great readers. They learned the art of how to learn. This involves mainly to relearn and unlearn, whenever you wish to learn something new.

When we speak about WW II, we cannot forget Winston Churchill. Churchill was an average student during his school and college days. However, he developed his interest towards reading. Whenever Churchill got an opportunity to read, he sinks himself into large volumes. Starting with a 4000-page book of The Decline and the fall of Roman empire, during his free time, he started an ambitious journey. A journey where he covered the works of Adam Smith, Plato, Gibbon, Macaulay, Aristotle and many more. This helped him to shine bright than the brightest during his college as well as in his political career.

With the presence of internet, books are available everywhere. Let’s choose our interest towards the topics we like to read. Start reading 2 pages every day. Grow our interest. Buy the books and keep it next to us. Book mark those articles on our browser. Set an alarm for reading. Keep it as a reminder. When we read, we teach ourselves something that we presumed to know. When we read contrarian topics, we teach ourselves something that we assumed. Develop the art of learning.

Art of Journaling

The under rated work is art of journaling. Journaling need not be only about, our life’s events or capturing a day’s work. When we do journaling, we are actually reciting the course of our day. It gives a glimpse of how the events unfolded for us that day, can help us understand it better and share more insights.

When we are not interested to journal our daily day, we can simply capture our thoughts. Take simple notes. The quotes that we read from a book. The three good things of the day. I practice, the 3 good things of the day, because it helps me to appreciate the events and the things that I am blessed with. As I write down, it helps to share a positive vibe. However, be the day, those three good things, helps to cherish, value and be grateful.

Practice to write. Start every day. Capture the thoughts. The day’s events. Or the things we like that day. The things that affected us that day. Keep writing.

Influence by Words

We are conscious about the inner voice. A voice that’s monologue about our lives throughout the day. This inner voice, according to psychologists is proven as an effective way to build one’s confidence. The eminent leaders used these self-talks as a positive assurance to themselves. They practiced during their times of doubtfulness.

These self-talk with oneself can be supportive or positive and cheerful. It can be negative and self-defeating when we speak in a negative way. Assure our self, with positive words. Have our own recital poem or positive dialogue or slogan, which we can say to our self. This would be useful, as the words influence us to positivity, reducing our own fears and building the confidence.

Words are powerful. They have the immense force to create and build a moment to movement. Choose those wisely with in oneself.

A simple slogan be asI am positively strong

I am positively strong

I am courteous and noble

I am curious and humble

I will raise myself and deliver       

Moral Clarity

We all are involved in a moral struggle. This shall ultimately define our life’s value. WW II questioned and raised concerns towards Moral clarity. There is no better reference than Winston Churchill.

To quote from him,

You must look very deep into the heart of man, and then you will not find the answer unless you look with the eye of the spirit. Then it is that you learn that human beings are not dominated by material things, but by the ideas for which they are willing to give their lives or their life’s work

Winston Churchill

Thus, look into us for the values that we stand for. Nurture those values. Keep them safe. We might never know, as to when they would be our guiding force. We can face trials and tribulations in our life. During those, times it’s the moral clarity that defines us.

In times of volatility, the important aspect of personal mastery  to hold on to moral clarity is nothing but Personal Courage. The most important one of personal mastery. Let’s look into that strong and valuable final point.

Personal Courage

Courage is resistance to Fear. Mastery of Fear, not absence of Fear.

Mark Twain

Any eventualities lead to uncertainty. The vulnerability paves in fear. With fear, we lose the confidence. We lose focus. We start to deliberate the reason with in us, as to why we should not progress further. We hear the negative self-talks.

That’s the most important time, when we need to be courageous. Personal courage is contagious. When you are courageous, you send hope to the people around you. When you share hope, they start a belief. The belief that the things, shall turn around. That belief will push you and the one’s around you to start a journey. When the journey begins, the momentum starts. Thus, courage is a primary step. Keep the flame of courage always burning inside you.

CoVID, Sunday Reverie

Uncertainty Paradox – How to navigate through this.

Uncertainty Paradox – This word occurred as a spark. When the CoVID situation was spreading all over the world, for the first time, this word striked in me. There was curiosity to know, with in me, how did I land up with this word. I just saved this word. Left it over for more than 2 months. Whenever, I was in discussion with my clients, or read an article or with my colleagues, as they explain the situation, I happened to quote this, without much of deep knowledge on this. This led to research, as to What is Uncertainty paradox?

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Uncertainty refers to the impossibility of exact predictions. This leads to a paradox. Uncertainty is always associated with two things. One is risks and the other, it’s based upon precautionary principles. Let’s first try to understand about risks. Risks actually are the calculable acts that can lead to a certain result in case of uncertainties. Risks analyzed from the point of the uncertainty generally has a controllable factor associated with it. That’s when you hear the word calculated risk. However, risk as a word evolved through history meaning danger.

Uncertainty generally refers to the inability or the impossibility to have proper predictions. Risks, rather than looking into the literal meaning of danger, in all practical scenarios is the possible negative consequences that can happen due to uncertainty. Now let’s relate this to an example. With CoVID situation, when the government announced lockdown, it immediately paved way to uncertainty. The reason being, we as humans are used to relate everything to time factor. When will the shop open? When will the school reopen? When will my education get over? When will be my final loan installment?

However, when we heard the news of government announcing the lockdown. We were worried immediately about the timeline. As not definitive timeline was announced. It gave way to uncertainty. There was no clarity as to when we will get back to work. Since, suddenly exposed to the fact of uncertainty, without a binding time factor, it led to a paradox. Each of us started to base our conclusion, upon our understanding of the uncertainty. For example, let relate to the news, that country X relaxed the lockdown after 2 months. After sever attack from the virus. Based upon this, we relate that our country has just started to test, probably we will have 3-4 months to reach such a volume. Hence, this is going to take much more time. Probably the lock down would be there for another 4-5 months. This is how uncertainty works towards a conclusion, in which none of the factors are certain. However, they seem to be so right, a kind of paradox. Hence, this raised the factor of risk.

With no clarity in place, when the lockdown was announced, we happened to see people filling their home with more than two months of supplies. Risk which needs to be analyzed as a factor of uncertainty suddenly transformed as a danger.

Businesses when they expand or change markets or launch a new category of products, they would always say calculated risk. They generally work on their business plan and probable revenue relating to expansion or new product launch or scenarios similar to this.. However, they will not be able to gauge the market, even though they do a sampling. The way market reacts after the product launch can be completely different. Hence, they say it’s a calculated risk. However, as risk in that scenario is already a calculated and controllable one. The reason is, the business entities would have planned it as a separate ship, at an arm distance from the mother ship. Incase if it sinks, they have taken all the precautionary measures. The precautionary measures that doesn’t bring down the mother ship. A risk due to the uncertainty.

I have a classic example to share. This relating to the case of Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Pepsi market share was raising. It was close to 30% in 1985. This growth led to threatening of the market leader Coca-Cola, that it might lose it’s leading position. In order to avoid losing the market share, Coca-Cola introduced something new called as New Coke. The New Coke was smoother, sweeter in taste than the regular coke.

Coca-Cola thought this shall help to control the slide in its market share. Though it was launched by sampling where during the sample test the results were good. However, upon launch, Coca-Cola realized that people didn’t like the new coke. Only 13% liked the new one. Coca-Cola fans became angry to such an extent they ran a campaign and pushed Coca-Cola to bring its old Coke. Indeed, within 77 days, Coca-Cola launched its original Coke under the name of Classic Coke.

Coca-Cola saw an uncertainty, when its market share was sliding. Hence, it took a risk the one as calculated and controllable. The calculated risk proved to be a bigger failure and it was able to control it by bringing the Classic Coke.

Though the business community calls these as precautionary measures, I feel this would have evolved from the second factor related to uncertainty, the precautionary principles. The precautionary principle pertains to uncertain risks. These risks are not, or at least not fully, calculable and controllable. The reason being he probability of occurrence or the effect in terms of damage cannot be estimated. In this kind of situation, even the potential danger and the resulting causalities may not be established. Though there are suspicions of danger. I can see, that you are visualizing the current CoViD situation and this thought seems to fit so well.

When faced with an uncertainty paradox, how can we navigate through it. For this, we need to go and understand how policies are framed. That shall give us the guidance, the tools to navigate uncertainty. For policies to be rolled out, they generally look at evidence. A policy to be framed, initially is run as a programme or scheme. Based upon the development of the programme and its impact a policy is formed. The policy considers the amounts of information and knowledge that happened during the programme development stage. Thus, evidence-based policies depend on two main factors of information – A solid evidence (information) and which is appropriate. As the policy is rolled out based upon evidence, they also at least plan to have strong administration, assessment and dissemination of policy. But in reality, very few cases succeed to this level.

Thus, an approach suggested by Anouk S. Rigterink and Mareike Schomerus, referred as authors henceforth, in their evidence-based policies is 4P’s – Proof, Plausibility, Principle and Possibility. Now let’s see, how this can help oneself in addressing the uncertainty paradox.

A fool proof knowledge

one has to establish a clear

distinction between

right and wrong.

Anouk S. Rigterink and
Mareike Schomerus

Proof – According to the authors, to have a fool proof knowledge one has to establish a clear distinction between something that is right and wrong. This makes a plan in reference to a time, to be right. This approach they name it as to evidence proof. Now, let’s relate this thought to uncertainty. When we face uncertainty, one of the things we can work upon is, instead of getting fearful, trying to identify evidence proof. That is the scenarios or incidents that have close relevance to the uncertainty that we currently face. History always repeats in a different form. The closer we are able to study and relate the past facts, from our own life to the historical facts, we can have a proof in hand. This helps us to build the logic of reasoning. The moment, we approach the same uncertainty with an evidence proof, relative to logic of reasoning, we can avoid the panic and fear.

Plausibility – Plausibility, as per the author’s description is not proof, but is broader than most current definitions of evidence. An argument that a policy can plausibly work may include retrospective proof from other contexts (proof that it was a right thing, done in a right way, at some other time and/or in some other place). But plausibility goes beyond this: it has to demonstrate that it is probable that the policy can work in another time and at another place.

An example can be, applying for a job interview. Let’s assume we are applying for a position for office assistant. We don’t have much experience regarding the same. One of the approach, we generally take is, discussion with friends or common connections who are working as an office assistant. We also, try to get the information through network, who might be the interviewer, what kind of questions generally they ask, etc. This clearly gives a view, that the evidence is not a direct link to us, it had happened in the past and we try to forecast the same for us. This helps us better to be prepared to face the situation.

Principle – Principles can be considered as the concepts of hope. They can be the quotes or proverbs or guidelines that we had heard multiple times. We grew with those as our light house guiding us during our tough times.

The authors covey that, the proof is useful to evaluate whether a past policy has obtained its goals. Plausibility details whether it is likely that a proposed policy will obtain its goals. However, neither tells us whether these goals were worthwhile in the first place, or how different goals should be prioritized.

A simple relevance to the principles can be seen in World War 2. When the coalition soldiers were badly hurt due to the war in the Nazi territories, most of citizens in those countries, supported the soldiers. Took care of them, medicated them and helped them to recover. This was because of underlying human emotion of empathy. A principle which had grown with us over the centuries. The same way, when we are in the mix of uncertainty, a strong statement which we say to ourselves is “This too shall pass”. A principle that had evolved over the centuries, that nothing stays forever.

Possibility – When we are in dark, surrounded with uncertainty, we have to think through options. They always say, the best options or solutions emerge in times of constraint. According to the authors, Principle might help us to have a more honest discussion of the goals. Proof and plausibility emphasize finding out what has worked somewhere, and what could plausibly work in the future.

However, principle, proof and plausibility can only show us what had worked before or what have been tried before.

Possibility, the forth option, can throw us a way to navigate. This might be all new, which was neither been adopted or an example that was not in place with anyone. As with everyone, one’s life is unique to themselves. Thus, you might find a way possible to navigate through the constraint.

Her never give up

attitude and the

possibility to reach

her village

An appropriate recent example is the one I would like to share here. When the CoVID lockdown was announced in India, there was a challenge within migration workers. India as you all aware, is a country of multiple states. People from one state travel to other state and work depending upon the nature of their skillset. In one case, a girl working as labor in a construction industry came under the same lockdown situation. Her mom was sick, and they couldn’t stay in the state where they were working. Because of lockdown, their existence and the fear pushed them to the brim of life.

When there was complete lockdown on travel and all necessities, she saw a possibility of going to her village. Her village is 1200km away. The possibility she saw was to ride a bicycle and reach the village along with her sick mom. Indeed, she reached cycling down 1200km. This shows her never give up attitude and at the same time, a possibility that I can reach my village by bicycle. When most of them didn’t think about the same.

Thus, during the times of uncertainty, lets us not be tied to fear. Let’s not get bowed down due to the pressure of unknown. We can choose from the above 4P’s – Proof, Plausibility, Principle and Possibility to navigate the situation. Though these are points which are used for framing policies, I believe one of the P’s or a combination of those can be that light house during the storm in the sea of life to reach our destination. A light of hope.


Probing for proof, plausibility, principle and possibility: a new approach to assessing evidence in a systematic evidence review – Development Policy Review 34 (1) – Journal articles or issues

Development Policy Review, 2016, 34 (1): 5–27