Unimagination – being prepared for inconceivable developments
Unimagination is one of five trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2023. The trend refers to the ability to accept and respond to previously unimaginable incidents and their consequences. Dealing with such situations requires new business strategies that strengthen companies‘ resilience and flexibility.
Communications departments are bound to lead the way in crises, as it is essential to satisfy the need for information among internal and external stakeholders as quickly as possible.To meet these expectations, communications departments must continuously observe the corporate environment, practice dealing with crises, and pass on this knowledge within the company.
What is unimagination?
Is a giant comet hitting the earth? The outbreak of nuclear war in the quest for world domination? Are robots taking over the government? Many scenarios seem so unlikely that they are considered impossible, yet unimaginable incidents nevertheless occur.
The trend unimagination describes the ability to accept and respond to previously unimaginable situations and to adapt structures and processes to be prepared for future scenarios.
Whether something is fully imaginable or not is always a matter of individual perception. It differs from person to person and depends on social background, education, and social networks. Despite these differences, developing the „ability to unimagine“ for all is important.
Being prepared for the unimaginable
When previously unimaginable situations or developments occur, it can paralyze internal and external stakeholders and influence their perceptions and attitudes – sometimes in positive ways, but mostly negatively. During these times, organizations must retain the capacity to act and communicate. Better forecasting methods won’t be the ultimate solution – after all, the unimaginable is characterized precisely by the fact that it is so difficult to predict.
Instead, psychological and organizational stability and robustness are needed. This can be promoted on an individual and organizational level through training on ambiguity tolerance, resilience, and improvisation.
- At the individual level, people can work to tolerate uncertainty and insecurity better. In psychology, this is known as ambiguity tolerance. While people with high ambiguity tolerance can tolerate contradictions and classify ambiguous information, people with low ambiguity tolerance tend to make rash decisions. To prevent this, cognitive strategies can be used to consider the consequences of a choice (e.g., whether one would think the same way if one had to justify it to others) and the situation (e.g., how high the current stress level is). Strengthening intercultural skills and experiences is also helpful, as this reduces the urge to be unambiguous.
- At the organizational level, reducing confusion and quickly gaining the upper hand in uncertain situations is important. Here, for example, improvisation and resilience training are discussed. Improvisation means spontaneously developing creative solutions to a problem, while resilience refers to the ability to bounce back, reintegrate, and adapt after an unimaginable event. In this context, management and psychology often refer to design thinking, a problem-solving method that helps develop options, test strategies, and gather feedback.
Recommendations for communication professionals
Communication leaders can help their organizations and stakeholders navigate unimaginable situations:
- Inform stakeholders: Information should be quickly collected and communicated when an unforeseen situation occurs. Thus, communication departments can help ensure that internal and external stakeholders are well-informed and capable of taking action. It can also reduce the influence of other sources and fight rumors.
- The power of trust: Corporate communications can prevent internal and external stakeholders from being paralyzed by building relationships and trust.
- Share expertise: Communicators can share their knowledge and experience with other organization members. Resilience training for executives and co-workers across the organization’s departments can be provided. And insights can be shared on how the communication department has responded to unimaginable incidents in the past.
- Train the communication team: It’s important to cultivate and expand the department’s unimagination skills through improvisation and resilience training.
About the study
For the third time the Academic Society for Management & Communication presented the Communications Trend Radar – an interdisciplinary and scientific study on the most important trends that will influence communication management in the near future.
The study analyzes changes in the areas of society, management, and technology. For 2023, the research team identified the trends State Revival, Scarcity Management, Unimagination, Augmented Workflows and Parallel Worlds.
These trends were selected and scored on a scientifically sound basis, developed by a research team at Leipzig University and the University of Potsdam (led by Professors Stefan Stieglitz from Business Information Systems, and Ansgar Zerfass form Communication Management). More than 100 sources from research and practice were included. The study aims to support communication managers in setting the course and guide decisions.