Monthly Archives: August 2009

My last post recommended three books on action under uncertainty, including The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand. This book traces the origins of pragmatism, a philosophy that believes “ideas are not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, but are tools–like forks and knives and microchips–that people devise to cope with the world in which they find themselves” (xi). By interweaving the stories of four leading pragmatists along with their influences, opponents, and related ideas, Menand creates a rich tapestry to illuminate the rise of pragmatism.

Pragmatism aspires to link ideas and action. “We don’t act because we have ideas;” Menand summarizes, “we have ideas because we must act” (364). But pragmatism contains a fatal flaw as a guide action in the real

Business leaders must act decisively without knowing what the future holds. Action despite uncertainty is not unique to business. Generals wage war, politicians make policy, and coaches draft game plans without knowing how events will unfold. Action absent certainty is a universal challenge. “Life can only be understood backwards,” as Søren Kierkegaard noted, “but must be lived forwards.”

This summer I read several books describing how soldiers, coaches, philosophers, scientists, and politicians grapple with action under uncertainty. Three stood out as quite interesting. (Note to English readers: When

Leading in turbulent times

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

Don Sull is professor of management practice in strategic and international management, and faculty director of executive education at London Business School. This blog is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs, managers, and outside directors to lead more effectively in a turbulent world.

Over the past decade, Prof Sull has studied volatile industries including telecommunications, airlines, fast fashion, and information technology, as well as turbulent countries including Brazil and China, and found specific behaviours that consistently differentiate more, and less, successful firms. His conclusion is that actions, not an individual’s traits, increase the odds of success in turbulent markets, and these actions can be learned.