Navigating uncertainty by putting people first

Businesses, governments, and organizations all over the world have been forced into reactive mode. But the pandemic isn’t the only cause of uncertainty. Societal roles and expectations are evolving rapidly and human experiences are at the center of change.


Now people will remember 2020 (at least) for the pandemic, but many other events signified what’s ahead of us. Australian bushfires wiped 47 million acres of land; the streets of the US were set ablaze as protesters marched against racism and police brutality; Parasite, a South Korean movie that explores class relations and inequality won four Oscars. Climate emergencies, turmoil, instability, and powerful art do not happen overnight. What has been simmering for years came to a boil in 2020: people demanded to be heard.


The consequences of this societal shift are obvious for businesses, governments, and organizations alike: 

  • Business leaders are confronted with a new, unexpected role. Instead of just selling a product, they must respond to societal pressures for sustainability, fairness, and morality. 
  • Democratic governments have to mobilize against a series of future threats, such as climate emergencies, demographic shifts, and crumbling economies — all while the prospects of long-term policies dim amidst the chaos of populism and polarization.
  • Organizations sit somewhere in the middle: they used to be quiet shapeshifters, but the urgency of the 21st-century crises calls for them to be bolder. Failing to do so may risk their very existence. 
  • And, as if the world isn’t going through enough, our planet’s survival depends on the success of the above—and within an unforgivingly narrow window of time.


Those that find it hard to navigate this new state of affairs may be missing the wake-up call — and the opportunities that come with it. To put it simply, any strategy, policy, or plan that doesn’t serve societal needs has an expiry date. At best it leads to irrelevance; at worst it may accelerate the dystopian future. Accepting and embracing people’s voices can turn so-called uncertainty into opportunity. We have been doing this at Demos Helsinki for fifteen years, and we thrive on it. 


So, how do we navigate uncertainty by putting people first? 


Lay the foundation

At Demos Helsinki, we are young and old, imaginative and orderly, outspoken and introverted, bold and careful, musical and athletic, intellectual and practical, traditional and radical. We encourage everyone to bring their full selves to work. Our different perspectives challenge each other. But before going off to tackle big problems, we first identify what it is that our whole team can get behind. The magic happens when all of these end up complementing each other. In that sense, we navigate uncertainty by hearing what people care about and by creating a collective vision.


Leverage collective Intelligence 

After vision comes action. Leveraging collective intelligence helps us become better problem solvers. When starting a project, we are all contributors by default. This means that every problem we solve is seen, analyzed, tinkered with by most of us. Autonomy sits at the core of our culture because there is nothing more rewarding than committing to each other. Being a self-organizing, employee-led organization means imagination and experimentation are constant, as are the associated risks. For the past fifteen years, we have navigated uncertainty by learning to steer towards our goals collectively.


Take this outside 

We bring this intentional people-first approach to our clients, partners, and collaborators. We think of the people, their connections, and the broader systems that they create. By ensuring diversity of opinions and unlikely collaborations, our model shapes the paths ahead instead of reacting to them. Our deep experience in collaborative strategy creation, capacity-building, and forming unlikely alliances means that we are well-positioned to help our clients navigate the uncertainties ahead. 


Whether you are beginning your transformation, scaling your strategy, or looking to influence society more broadly, our approach, experience, and insight will enable you to thrive amidst disruption.  


We are humans, and we are here to help you flourish. 


Get in touch


Photography: Jason Leung