Planning and direction in the zone of uncertainty

I just wrote a new part of our page on planning in a VUCA world, and it’s about finding our way within the zone of uncertainty between the plannable future and our far off vision.


When it comes to the tangible non-fungible world of physical objects that are built once, or big changes to highly complicated abstract systems, sometimes the time span of planning has to be longer, i.e. projects. They are unavoidable. There is a polarity tension between the reality that we cannot plan far into the future and the reality that we have to.

Planning can push into the zone of uncertainty. But do it knowingly and recognise the risks of trying to know the unknowable.


People get uncomfortable that lack of planning seems directionless.

It is not directionless. We have our long-term vision and our immediate mission to help direct us. We have principles – what Teal Unicorn calls “matariki” or navigational stars – to guide our decision making.

We are free to set goals or outcomes or what the military call desired effects within the zone of uncertainty, so long as we understand that they are just flags in the ground can be knocked over at any time.

And finally – as we have mentioned elsewhere – there is a school of thought that there is nothing wrong with being directionless, organically responding to the environment in an optimal way, allowing direction to be emergent and adaptive.


There is a perception that if we are constantly changing direction we must be out of control. Actually we are just abandoning the illusion of control. The cruise control on your car does not allow you to lock in the steering direction for the next 5 km. You are constantly adjusting direction in response to the external environment. But you still know where you are going. And you are also always prepared to adjust your destination in response to circumstances as well, e.g. traffic jams, family emergencies, or a better idea.