Towards Safer Uncertainty revisited

This is part 1 of a 3-part blog revisiting Towards Safer Uncertainty. In the first 70 days of lockdown I posted 15 articles on building resilience and navigating:

  • Uncertainty

  • Change

  • Impermanence

  • A lack of control

  • The unknown

This still seems relevant. Here’s a guide to the series

It feels like it’s time to share some reflections and add to the story.

Part 1: A recap on the Concepts and framework
Part 2: How Towards Safer Uncertainty helps describe Next tier leadership
Part 3: Observations from 2020

Concepts and framework

Here you will find the thinking behind Towards Safer Uncertainty. Its premise, principles, mindset positions, and a framework for practice.

Change and uncertainty have always been the new normal

The planetary pandemic has caused an unprecedented, heightened and shared experience of uncertainty. Yet, in the work I do in executive coaching and facilitating leadership programs, constant change has always been the new normal.

The Premise of Towards Safer Uncertainty

We often confuse safety with certainty. We can assume they are the same thing.

When we assume safety and certainty are the same thing, we attempt to move towards certainty to feel safe. Certainty is unrealistic and does not exist in any sustainable way. So, we find ourselves defending, denying and controlling to maintain our safety.

As we become aware of our flawed approach, we distinguish between that which genuinely keeps us safe, and our drive for certainty. This allows us to move towards safer uncertainty. Safer uncertainty is a domain of possibility, exploration, learning and growth. It is a more realistic space, but can also be vulnerable, uncomfortable and confusing.

Key principles of Towards Safer Uncertainty

Keeping it real. Recognising that if your sense of safety is dependent on being certain, you are playing a losing game.

Learning from life. Seeing life and its challenges as a key source of learning rather than as problems.

Getting comfortable with insecurity. Accepting that control is an illusion. Surrendering to the need for control is an important breakthrough in personal development.

Managing mindset. Recognising that your attitude to uncertainty could lead to creativity and possibility. Or it could lead to fear and paralysis.

Understanding suffering. Suffering is the difference between how you think life should be and how it actually is. It is your attachment to expectations (thoughts) that cause you to suffer.

Knowing yourself and your purpose. The more you know about who you are at your core, the stronger your rudder for navigating stormy waters.

Staying present. There is a release and relief in opening up to life and its teachings which allows you to be more vital and alive.


Your attitude to uncertainty can lead to creativity and possibility. It could also lead to fear and paralysis. Your mindset determines which.

Psychotherapist Barry Mason created a framework for seven mindset positions of Towards Safer Uncertainty. (Towards Positions of Safe Uncertainty: Barry Mason: Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation and Management. Vol 4. 1993 189-200)

1. Authoritative doubt
Hold your beliefs and knowledge with ‘authoritative doubt.' This is about balancing your expertise and your uncertainty.

2. State of flow
Nothing is fixed. Everything is always in a state of flow. ‘This too will pass.’

3. Respectful, collaborative and evolving
The narrative of your life is respectful, collaborative and evolving. You are in a constant state of impermanence. You look for what is required now, and then adapt and respond.

4. Alongside
New explanations are considered with curiosity. They add to, rather than replace existing thinking. Your thinking is ‘As-Well-As.’ You look for ‘And-Both’ possibilities.

5. Enquiry
When unexpected things happen, you get curious. You choose enquiry over grasping for definition.

6. Meaning
You explore meaning and messages rather than argue about facts. You see dilemma’s not as problems to be fixed, but as messages to learn from.

7. Dilemmas

You see ‘solutions’ as dilemmas that are simply less of a dilemma than you had before. You know that a problem often doesn’t have a simple resolution. You know that there doesn’t always have to be an answer.

A framework for practice

As a framework for practice these five focus areas are a useful guide. They are only headings within this short article. For ideas on deepening the practice and how to apply them in work and life, take a look at the other blogs in the series.

  1. Being curiously awake: Noticing your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Noticing what you are attached to.

  2. Consciously create safety: Building safety across your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual life.

  3. Embracing uncertainty: Actively, deliberately, curiously and joyfully embracing uncertainty.

  4. Letting life be life: Living in the present and accepting life’s occurrences as gifts. An openness to what you can learn about yourself, others and the world around you.

  5. Connecting to the wider system: Operating with a wider purpose and longer-term view.

A version of the full article was published in issue three of The Learning Scientist magazine.
This is a free publication with some great content in it. You can sign up here:

If you would benefit from some help with developing your safer uncertainty practice, get in touch.



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