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Resilience in a time of uncertainty

It’s been an extraordinary year of narrow electoral victories, which will have profound long-term effects rippling down the corridors of power and into our everyday lives. In June, Brexit kicked it all off with a surprising vote by UK citizens to leave the EU. In October it was then followed with the rejection from voters of the Colombian FARC peace deal which, really, was supposed to be a rubber stamp formality, not a popular protest. Most recently was Donald Trump’s surprise victory over opponent Hillary Clinton in the US elections.

These three examples demonstrate a radical disruption within politics. But this shouldn’t be surprising, in fact, it seems that radical change and the uncertainty that surrounds it is just now spilling into politics. This raucous revolution has been shaking up businesses and the economy for some time; pundits call it the new digital age.

Digital disruption and the pace of change

Change has been happening at a frenetic pace and for some, this is unsettling. Facilitated by the age of the Internet, we have fundamentally changed the way we shop, do business, communicate and even the way we spend our free time. Almost every aspect of our lives has changed in the new digital age. We can now use a smart phone as a tool to do everything from paying a bill to finding love. To put this in perspective, Facebook was launched in 2004 and the first iPhone only launched in June 2007, which isn’t even 10 years ago.

These shockwaves of technological advances have affected everyone and for many, especially those who have not grown up as digital natives, these changes are unsettling. Even more unsettling is the speed at which this transformation is happening. Change happens exponentially; meaning today’s technological gains virtuously feed into even faster hi-tech advances. Moore’s law highlights this reality. Gordon Moore, co-founder of technology giant Intel developed a theory in the late 1960s that computing power doubles every two years.

As a result of faster computing power and other advances in the digital age, technological change is accelerating. Yet, for human reasoning, this is a difficult concept to accept because if we look at a narrow part of an exponential curve it looks linear, our brains work like that. We are only looking at a narrow slice of the curve because it is deep and rapid immersion in change. This means that when we reflect on all the changes that have happened over the last few years, we may falsely project growth to continue along the same continuum. It’s unsettling for most to think otherwise as it ushers in a lot more uncertainty.

Uncertainty is unsettling

So, as a species we aren’t naturally equipped to accept the idea of exponential change and we definitely don’t like uncertainty. According to research carried out by the University College London, uncertainty can cause more stress than something inevitable, even if it is pain. The research found that high uncertainty matched higher stress levels. We naturally like a predictable world and become anxious with the unknown.

Preparing for uncertainty

How do we equip ourselves for the frenetic pace of change and the looming uncertainty in the world around us? Can teachers help develop resilience in students who will be the next generation of leaders? After all, the students of today will be sailing in unchartered waters almost as soon as they graduate as careers and job titles also evolve dramatically. Research by organisations like Deliotte’s indicates that digital technology will replace many more jobs in the future, creating a need amongst tomorrow’s managers for on-going skills development.

We can’t precisely predict the job functions that will dominate the workforce in 10 or 20 years, but we have a good idea of the direction of travel. Most importantly, we can equip rising talent with the tenacity, confidence and curiosity to adapt to a world of perpetual change. It is the responsibility of today’s teachers both in secondary school and higher education to foster

creative thinking, problem solving and empathy in students. This will enhance their future career development in a world where many existing management theories and working practices are being disrupted or made irrelevant.

Greta Paa-Kerner (@gretapk) is a one of the academics developing Bucks Business School’s new International MBA programme. She is also an independent marketing consultant and a guest editor for the Journal of Euromarketing. Visit her website at

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