What pressure cookers can teach us about uncertainty

by Debbie Nicol

Since childhood, I was fascinated by one particular gadget in our family kitchen – the humble pressure cooker. Perhaps it was not so humble afterall, given my continuing fascination with two of its aspects, specifically:

the industrial-like turn-lock to indicate the lid was on securely

the steam release valve that squealed when it required adjustment

Whenever Mum got it out of the cupboard to cook up our monthly treat of corned beef, I knew I felt something was different yet could never understand exactly what it was. My life clearly had no immediate need for the lessons that a pressure cooker presented back then. Perhaps, just perhaps my childhood fascination was a prelude for coping in life and business, 2020’s style?

The pressure cooker’s industrial-like turn-lock represents proactive choice you can take

Uncertainty destabilizes those who thrive on the known and that happens to be the majority of the human race. The known is controllable, allowing us to navigate still waters with ease. Ripples of doubt have no reason to emerge, as the waves around us are only created by ourselves, for reasons known to ourselves, at a time that works for ourselves.

Unpredictability brings waves our way when not prepared for them, quickly converting into riptides in our worlds. The sense of loss from a redundancy, a legal change that deems a skill outdated or even a societal shift that indicates your inclusion is now dubious forges crevasses between confidence and competence.

Decisions that demand to be taken rock the soul of our being, challenging us to sometimes compromise the very essence of our beings. Will you buck the new society norm of vaccination going against your own need for full understanding and transparency? Will you stop speaking your truth for fear of losing some friendships?  Will you take the risk to walk the path alone knowing that uncertainty has nothing but unpredictable outcomes? What will you do before it is mandated?

Protection is paramount during times of uncertainty. Deciding how far to turn that security lock on the pressure cooker was always a choice for my mother in the kitchen.

So how are you protecting yourself from possible pent-up stress in today’s changing world? 

Some I see are able and willing to go with the flow, recognizing things are happening ‘just as meant to be’, aligned to their philosophical or idealistic approach to life.

Some are locking themselves away in a safe cocoon, and hoping to ‘wake up’ when it’s all over

Others fit somewhere along the continuum between both, doing what’s right for themselves

Either way, stay in touch with your ability to proactively twist and turn that pressure cooker’s lid to engage an appropriate level of safety and security required; afterall only you truly know the depth and reach of your own reality.

The pressure cooker’s release valve represents opportunity for reactive choice

Unpredictability shows up unexpectedly, emerging in new forms, with new timings demonstrating differing intensity levels. True to its meaning, unpredictability is as random as its name suggests.

Physical immunity can be challenged when it meets an unexpected new strain of virus. Cognitive capability will be questioned when silent decay is unexpectedly observed. Emotional strength can be deflated when trauma forces its way into your world. Natural environments can be devastated with one large wave fueled from the ocean floor or one shockwave from the earth’s core when humanity is sleeping. These unpredictable events cannot be stopped and perhaps some may argue should not be stopped, given their ‘evolutionary agent’ role. Yet, when experiencing these, are you in touch with your built-in alert mechanisms that aim to protect you from reactionary overload.

Nurturance is paramount in times of unpredictability, yet how are you staying in touch with your alert mechanisms, to provide what your ‘alert valve’ deems necessary? Are your receptors unobstructed and positioned for maximum alert? Only then can you choose to ‘up the ante’ on what is required, just as a pressure cooker’s whistling valve insists on being adjusted for maximized steam release at times of possible crises. 

What does this mean for you?

Working in a culture which is misaligned to your values causes increasing pressure, just as do living with personal loss, working with a lack of credibility, sinking in self-doubt, struggling to perform or pivot, surviving a lack of team support, scrambling with a decreasing relevance of skills, being paralyzed through a fear of the unknown among others. 

Growth can be a resulting bi-product of pressure on systems. Mechanical systems show wear and tear and ‘insist’ on upgrades to cope with pressure from increased demand and looming competition. Effective human ‘systems’ or teams recognize something is trying to evolve through the pressure and move into a space of exploration and discovery. Yet: 

without conditions that facilitate proactivity in the face of change and without heightened awareness which detects possibility of irrelevance and extinction that will simply not happen.

On the other hand stagnation and decay can also be a resulting bi-product of pressure.

How can you ensure that increasing pressure can and will make your life’s or business’s corned beef positively impact in the face of adversity, smelling and tasting far beyond the previous portion?  

Debbie Nicol, MD of Dubai-based ‘business en motion’ moves businesses and leaders ahead through change. Specializing in leadership and change, Debbie is a Certified Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge leadership methodology, facilitating leadership to be everyone’s business.