The case for low uncertainty avoidance

I have noticed around me that a lot of people struggle to deal with uncertainty. Many people go out of the their way to try to minimize ambiguity at all costs, and appear to have a very low tolerance for uncertainty.

There is even an attempt to quantify this mentality on a cultural level. Uncertainty Avoidance is one of Geert Hofstede cultural dimensions that he uses to categorize cultures. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to have very stringent routines, very strict roles, hierarchies, security, and unsurprisingly, go out of their way to minimize change wherever possible. Such societies tend to be stressful in the face of change, and  have a deep dislike of what are called unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, can be surprising, and quite unlike the typical routine.

The problem with that approach is that uncertainty is always a part of life. Change is simply a reality in this world. Indeed, the laws of thermodynamics say that the overall entropy of the universe increases in any process. Any culture or individual that chooses to have a high uncertainty avoidance will struggle in the face of change.

Whenever you launch a new project, a new idea, or anything that involves dramatic change, there is always something that you did not anticipate. That does not mean that we should not try to be proactive and identify challenges before they occur, dealing with them in advance, but it means that we should acknowledge that whenever something happens that is a big change, there are  going to be problems that we did not anticipate.

There are also the unanticipated changes that constantly occur. Something unexpected always does happen. The question is, in the short and long run, how well does a person or an organization deal with it?

I would argue that it is far better to adopt a low uncertainty avoidance mentality and accept that change is always going to be reality. Accept that there will be constant changes and try to deal with it. Try to break from a routine, or ask the “what if X happened” as a thought exercise. If nothing else, it might force a person to think about an unconventional problem and perhaps a truly unique solution.

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