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Welcome To Uncertainty! Surviving And Thriving In A World Of Surprises – BlueSky Bookshelf Meets Philippe Silberzahn

Philippe Silberzahn, Associate Professor at emlyon Business School and author of “Welcome to uncertainty! Surviving and thriving in a world of surprises

Philippe Silberzahn is an Associate Professor at France’s emlyon Business School. As a researcher, keynote speaker, management trainer, and consultant, he works with the leadership teams of large organisations facing disruptions and situations of radical uncertainty. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on these topics, with a  widely followed and influential blog. Philippe has over twenty years of prior experience as an entrepreneur and CEO in the software industry.

The 2008 financial crisis, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the Covid-19 epidemic, the invasion of Ukraine, the return of inflation, and what next? The list of surprises keeps growing. Against this backdrop, a new perspective on forecasting is imperative. How can we thrive in a world we can’t predict?
Philippe Silberzahn is a recognised expert on innovation and entrepreneurship, and in his latest book. Welcome to Uncertainty! Surviving and Thriving in a World of Surprises, the author draws on his extensive extensive research and real-world insights from working with leaders of all types of organisations to;

  • Reveal the nature of our unpredictable reality,
  • Address decision making amidst information scarcity, and
  • Equip organisations to thrive in uncertain waters.

Welcome to Uncertainty! is essential reading for leaders, innovators, and those determined to harness the potential of change, this book is your compass in an uncertain and ever-evolving landscape.

BlueSky Thinking sat down with Philippe to find out more.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your new book? What motivated you to write it?

I have been working with the leadership team of large organisations for many years, and before that I was an entrepreneur in the high-tech sector. Uncertainty is the harsh reality of business, and it’s becoming even more so: we live in an unpredictable world of big and small surprises that are evolving by leaps and bounds. Yet most of our management tools are designed for a safe, predictable, and continuous world. We set goals, we create plans, we assume continuity and linearity, and it does not end well. The motivation of the book is really for leaders to understand that uncertainty means rethinking our management tools.

What are the main ideas and key takeaways that readers can expect to find in your book?

What the book really does is:

  • Explain the true nature of our environment,
  • Discuss the challenge of making decisions when information is not available
  • Show how organisations can survive and thrive under uncertainty.

The book is your compass in an uncertain and ever-changing landscape.

Who is the target audience for your book, and how do you believe it will benefit them?

The book will be of interest to private and public sector leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors, as well as those determined to harness the potential of change and those who advise them, such as consultants.

What do you think makes this topic particularly relevant or timely in today’s business world, and for the years ahead?

Since Covid-19, but in fact long before, uncertainty has become an inescapable fact of the business landscape. It has accelerated with the war in Ukraine, the return of inflation, geopolitical change, the retreat of globalisation – in fact, all dimensions of business are now affected. An organisation cannot develop a strategy without a deep understanding of the nature and implications of uncertainty.

“The book is your compass in an uncertain and ever-changing landscape.”

– Philippe Silberzahn

Please share with us some practical tips or strategies from your book that readers can immediately apply to improve their business or career?

A key takeaway is that you do not deal with uncertainty by trying to make better predictions. The book suggests a two-pronged approach: one based on “futures to avoid” and one based on “futures to create. The first is about protecting the organisation from events that cannot be predicted, and the second is about adopting an entrepreneurial strategy to create, rather than predict, a desired future.

Can you discuss any specific case studies or real-world examples from your book that illustrate its principles in action?

The book draws on numerous examples and cases to illustrate either an over-reliance on prediction and the disasters that have followed, or a more robust, entrepreneurial approach to creating innovative strategies that account for uncertainty. It reminds us, for example, that most of the radical innovations that have defined our century were not predicted, and that most innovators and visionaries did not imagine or predict what they ultimately achieved.

How does your book add to/expand existing discussions on this topic, or predict those for the future?

Of course, the book makes no predictions! But one key development that emerges is the absolute necessity of developing a culture of uncertainty among top management teams.

Finally, what other business books would you recommend as essential reading for managers?

Books on the subject include Taleb’s Black Swan, Bernstein’s Against the Gods, and for those with a background in economics, Frank Knight’s Risk, Uncertainty and Profit.

Welcome to Uncertainty! Surviving and Thriving in a World of Surprises, published by Natura Rerum, is available to buy now.

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