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Serene Ambition

By Jim Selman with Shae Hadden

Flying blind in a permanent state of uncertainty? This article offers leaders grappling with our rapidly evolving “real-time world” a practical strategy for staying sane.

My initial foray into blogging took place on a site I created: sereneambition.com. It was a canvas for my thoughts on life, aging, and my adventures living in Argentina and Mexico. After crafting a few hundred posts, many of which were captured in my book Serene Ambition in a Real-Time World, I paused. In the intervening decade, the world has morphed considerably. As a result, I find myself returning to the keyboard to share my observations on our rapidly evolving world and, specifically, my reflections about how we can grapple with the changes cascading around us and the torrent of information coming at us faster and faster.

Over my career, I have come to believe that life largely unfolds within the realm of conversations, sometimes including those ‘between the ears’ conversations with myself.

A starting point for me is to begin every conversation with an admission—“I don’t know”—and a reminder that my point of view (or anyone’s for that matter) is neither inherently true nor false. The usefulness of any point of view depends on who you are speaking with and the point or purpose of the conversation.

It’s fairly obvious, given the current rate of change, the complexity of just about anything we are talking about, and the staggering volume of information accessible from countless sources, that no one has a complete picture of reality. Increasingly, I am aware that I’m lucky to get my head around even a small sliver of what’s really going on. The practical implication of this is that most of the future is being determined by things I am not even aware of. My clients, along with nearly everyone I know, have given up trusting their predictions. It’s increasingly clear we don’t have control over much of what’s happening.

I suggested in my book Living in a Real-Time World that the accelerating speed of change is collapsing the gap between the future and the past. It’s as if we, like the explorers of the Star Trek Enterprise, are “going where no one has gone before”. Accepting this premise necessitates we acknowledge our inability to rely on past experiences to inform our decisions and, consequently, our future. Accepting this premise means we’re living in a state of permanent uncertainty and flying blind. The irony is that this may have always been the case. Our cultural addiction to certain ideas, such as the past ‘causes’ the future, there is a reason for everything, and people are objects in an objective reality, has simply obscured the fact.

I think it’s pretty obvious that something is happening that is way beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend. That “something” is manifesting as a growing list of intractable problems, many of which are at a scale that threaten our way of life as we’ve known it and, perhaps, civilization itself. Obviously, climate change is at the top of the list. Many now suggest the existential threat from artificial intelligence could be just as severe. Others point to some of society’s larger challenges to world order: political radicalization, government corruption, absence of social equity, unsustainable distribution of wealth, manipulation of the human genome, poverty, and inevitably, more and deadlier pandemics.

I don’t pretend to have any answers to these and many other of the big questions we confront as individuals, communities, nations and one world. I accept that the systems and institutions human beings have created over time are all breaking down. I don’t think any of us have much, if any, control over anything. However, my core belief, which has proven beneficial for many others and continues to keep me sane, is that we always have a choice in how we relate to anything and everything.

These posts will explore the idea that our ability to choose how we relate to anything and everything is the key to context. Mastering context can give us the ability to navigate in real time and, hopefully, co-create a future that unifies humanity. Then it may be possible to resolve all of the seemingly intractable issues that threaten our existence.


© 2024 Jim Selman