How do we lead in an era of uncertainty?

Posted 15 Apr

futures unlearned blog image, v2

Early in the year the MOD. team were busy producing FUTURES UNLEARNED, a week-long event to explore futures in an age of uncertainty, coinciding with SEVEN SIBLINGS FROM THE FUTURE. One of these sessions was to focus on leadership to gain insight into how questioning, challenging and reframing our existing thoughts and beliefs – unlearning – could show us how to lead during uncertain times. It is evident this topic is now more important than ever so we made the decision to move this session online.

To lead the design of the new online approach, we collaborated with Matthew Wright-Simon from Ecocreative, Engagement for Changemakers. Working with Matthew we were able to shape a thought provoking and timely program which featured an exceptional line up of guest speakers from a range of disciplines including public sector innovation, foresight, design thinking and social change.

FUTURES UNLEARNED convened online on Monday 6 April to respond to the overarching provocation how do we lead in an era of uncertainty? Facilitated by Matthew Wright-Simon and Director of MOD. Dr Kristin Alford, the program addressed three themes of unlearning; discombobulation, dismantling and discovery, and considered how that might apply to the circumstances around COVID-19.

To (un)learn more you can view recordings of the live steam below and delve into additional online resources relating to each theme with thanks to our guest speakers.



Faced with a sense of catastrophe, panic and lack of control, how do we harness our rollercoaster of emotions to help navigate and challenge our priorities, thoughts and beliefs? 

Brenton Caffin, Public Sector Innovator and Executive Director of States of Change joined Matthew and Kristin to unpack the mechanics of discombobulation by asking what’s one thing that you have completely reversed your opinion as a result of the crisis?

A powerful take away from Brenton’s discussion was that while faced with uncertainty we can acknowledge our emotions, observe them, but don’t have to be captured by them. And it’s ok to be saying goodbye to what you thought and expected, and not know what to do next.

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Progressive dismantling. Where and how do we start?

Writer and restauranteur, Durkhanai Ayubi guided us through a discussion which asked will we dissolve the boundaries between us, or entrench them further?

The conversation uncovered themes of letting go, grieving and challenging current social, political and cultural identify structures. Durkhanai’s powerful provocation posed a further question; if we don’t dismantle now, do we then revert back to dated power structures?

If we don’t take the opportunity to adequately reflect and dismantle, how do we progressively move towards decolonising political and social systems? And what does this mean for movements like feminism? Once the uncertainty passes (for now) we need to ask ourselves, is returning back to “normal” actually good enough?

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Emergent discovery. What are people finding fresh, or rediscovering?

To delve into the discovery phase foresight strategist Rowena Morrow, posed the important question; thinking about what we have heard and seen globally – has the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated we have leaders or people in leadership roles, and how do we tell the difference?

Exploring the discovery phase revealed that there are tremendous opportunities for growth, especially around empathy. So, where in the world, and in the past can we look to teach us about the future and transformation? And how can we apply these to leadership ideals?

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Where to now? What will we bring forward, and how?

We finally spoke with Noriko Wynn, Futures Research Lead at Aurecon and Bridgette Engeler, Senior Lecturer of Foresight and Design at Swinburne University to make sense of these threads and inform how we each might develop as leaders during this time.

Exploring the themes of discombobulation, dismantling and discovery demonstrated that unlearning is a continual and iterative process which asks us to be open, agile and reflective. The current moment is destabilising, but in that liminal moment of not knowing it is possible for something new to emerge. Leadership that thrives in this time will be marked by the ability to “hasten slowly” and filled with courage, humility and empathy as we chart new futures together.

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