The Great Adaptation: how uncertainty can help us succeed

William Cox William Cox
Chief Executive Officer
18 January 2022
5 min read

The Great Fire of London in 1666 was a dramatic tragedy: a catastrophic four-day inferno, destroying 80 per cent of the City of London and leaving 80,000 people homeless. Close-built wood and straw buildings, densely populated alleys and dry conditions created a recipe for disaster, which was only brought to an end by Navy-assisted explosions in a last-ditch attempt to create firebreaks. 

As terrifying and horrible as this experience likely was for those living through it, destructive events have a way of necessitating new and improved ways of doing things. What 17th-century Londoner would have known that a fire sparked in a baker's shop on Pudding Lane would lead to a historic transformation in the future design and management of their whole city?

The Great Fire of London is but one silver-lining example; human history is freckled with big problems that have led to great improvements. While adaptation in the face of adversity is nothing new, it's still very challenging, especially when the problems being solved are incomparable with anything we've experienced before. Hindsight helps us understand past challenges but, when we are in the midst of new ones, the pathway forward is often laced with uncertainty.

Industries across the world are adjusting to new ways of working, largely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we're hell bent on finding innovative ways to become sustainable faced with what will be the greatest challenge yet: climate change.  

Considering how big and unprecedented these challenges are, the adaptation pathways we are embarking on will be no easy journey – uncertainty is rife at every corner. So, how can we find our way through unknowns and towards the right solutions if we don't have any idea what they are?

What follows The Great Resignation?

One of the most immediate issues at play within our industries is a struggle to retain talent. In a widescale trend dubbed The Great Resignation, more and more people are changing career paths and workforces. 

While the pandemic has realigned people's personal priorities, the increase in transitions is also a result of pent-up demand created by pandemic-induced stagnation. Many industries ground to a halt, and uncertainty encouraged a lot of people to stay put. And now that things have begun to open up, people are on the move – both nationally and internationally, and within and outside their fields of work experience. 

While it's fantastic to see people feeling excited and empowered about pursuing new goals, there's no denying industries are experiencing this now more than usual ‒ and on a scale we haven’t really seen before. There are going to be considerable efforts expended in pursuit of retaining staff, retaining teams and retaining company culture, yet at the same time delivering well for clients. 

However, as with the Great Fire of London, we can also find opportunities in these challenging times. With more people changing jobs, there's a good chance of attracting fresh talent from diverse backgrounds that can bring new ideas and create more robust problem solving – some that we may never have thought of or achieved before.

Who knows what kind of creativity and innovation we can uncover and unlock with this new-found diversity of thought? 

Moving to net zero

All the adaptation we are achieving is excellent practice for the challenges still ahead of us, particularly in terms of climate change. Moving to net zero emissions is one of the biggest and most important challenges we've faced in terms of the transitions that businesses need to make, and the associated risks. Although, it is also one of the biggest opportunities we've had to make a difference, not just for our clients, but for society more broadly. 

Making a difference is largely about supporting communities and clients to adapt to new ways of operating their assets that will make everything more efficient and reduce emissions. This involves harnessing new skills and techniques, and is also about thinking more broadly around how to extend the life of assets to retrieve as much value as possible from investments. 

As we follow through on principles of sustainability and circular economies, we must also think holistically about sustainability, building it into the way we design to ensure longevity and resilience into the future.

Achieving net zero won't be easy, but we are working in an era of technological advancement that's set to develop solutions we have yet to discover. 

Turning problems into opportunities

One of the biggest hurdles these changes presents is the level of uncertainty at play, as industries work their way through the pandemic. And the pandemic isn't over. This year will yet again have some very significant uncertainties that need to be worked through, on levels that go beyond staff retention.  

We've all lived through lockdowns to varying extents. Trained in cautiousness over the past two years, we know how damaging restrictions can be. We don't want to do that again; we all want to get ahead now. However, the severity and impact of new COVID-19 variants is yet to be determined. We are going to have to be courageous and work through more phases of uncertainty as the world tries to recover. 

While the future is still unclear, I find confidence in knowing how organisations have handled a great deal of uncertainty so far.  We've been experimenting, testing new things, and embedding solutions and strategies that work. We've been making many changes and growing more comfortable with adaptation. 

Continuing to work through the pandemic made quick evolution very necessary, and accepting that more changes will likely come is crucial. The old 'set and forget' approach to solutions doesn't serve us well when our challenges evolve. We need to be realistic about levels of uncertainty by acknowledging what we can and can't control.

As we ask our people to join our journey through uncertainty together, we also need to continue supporting them. Workplace health and safety, including mental health and wellbeing, have been brought to the fore since last year. And continuing this well-being journey with them, assuring them that we have got their backs, will help us foster the resilience and positivity we need to recover and march forward.

We might not have all the answers now, although that's part of the nature of adaptation. As long as we stay flexible and open to change, we can work towards transforming big problems into great improvements, for our industries and the communities they serve.

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William Cox
Written by
William Cox

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