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Kenan Institute 2023 Grand Challenge: Workforce Disrupted
Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
Aug 18, 2020

Leading, Managing and Communicating in an Era of Certain Uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide civil unrest spawned by the recent spate of senseless killings of unarmed African Americans have illuminated what executive development professionals have been telling private and public sector leaders and managers for quite some time. We are living in an era of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity—a VUCA World. “Certain-uncertainty” is the new normal in today’s society and economy.

These two extremely traumatic and disruptive events are the latest of a host of disruptive forces that have dramatically transformed our environment, economy and personal wellbeing. The tragic events of 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008-2010, Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast
oil disaster are noteworthy past examples. Now we are experiencing a second–and more ominous–spike in coronavirus infections and
deaths as some communities allowed businesses to reopen too soon and large numbers of people ignored—and continue to do so–social distancing and mask wearing mandates. Such decisions are doing even more harm to vulnerable populations and communities already disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Not to mention the challenges they pose for both
K-12 and higher education leaders trying figure out the best strategy for reopening schools this fall.

Making matters worse, we are now in the midst of the Atlantic hurricane season, which reportedly will be more active than normal. Meteorologists predict the 2020 hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 until November 30, will be the second-most active in four decades, and estimate 24 names storms, including 12 total hurricanes and five major hurricanes. As we know from the two storms that have already materialized, communities that have not rebounded from earlier adverse weather events and are now battling the coronavirus pandemic and experiencing civil unrest have already suffered or could potentially suffer yet another major disruption, making, in the process, our crisis response challenges even more daunting.

In addition, there are other potential disruptors including the steady rise in hate crimes, violent inequity in the application of law enforcement in some communities, acts of domestic terrorism, trade wars that affect global supply chains, and the political uncertainty surrounding the voting process and outcomes of the 2020 elections. Add to that the potential long-term effects of the pandemic-induced financial, employment and food insecurity crises.

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