The Uncertain Times Tools

2020 has been a year of unparalleled uncertainty. Our lives have been turned upside-down. Things we took for granted have changed in front of our eyes. We’ve all had to deal with unpredictability on an unprecedented level, to the extent that Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year is actually unprecedented. Our lives are weirder and more complex than ever.

Ella Saltmarshe
4 min readNov 27, 2020

In our work, Cassie and I have both been tackling big societal problems for decades and part of that has involved learning and practicing how to navigate, and to *be* in complexity. For years, academics and practitioners have been thinking about how to navigate complexity, developing useful concepts, insight and practices. The bad news is that often this is pretty inaccessible, only discoverable in ivory towers, or niche leadership communities.

We wanted to take the ideas we’ve found helpful and make them more available, because right now we’re all navigating complexity daily. On some level we wanted to emulate the reactions we’d had a decade ago when we both read a book called Dancing at the Edge by Graham Leicester & Maureen O’Hara about the competencies needed to navigate the 21st century. It was like someone had seen and validated all the ‘weird’, countercultural things we did. Rather than being eccentricities, reading the book helped us see that many of these behaviours were sensible ways to navigate the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we found ourselves in.

So we’ve taken some of the ideas about complexity that we’ve found most helpful, combined them with our own experience and developed Uncertain Times. Although we hope these tools will be useful for everyone, we decided to primarily develop them with young women in mind, given that they are facing a perfect storm of complexity in this moment.


We wanted the tools to help people on three levels: (i) emotional (ii) process and (iii) planning.


We developed Companion Cards to help people reflect on the emotional qualities that help them navigate uncertainty.

The Companion Cards
An individual Companion Card.

The Saboteur Cards focus on what might get in the way of navigating uncertainty on an emotional level.

The Saboteur Cards
An individual Saboteur Card


The workbook is designed to help people take action on something they care about. It could be getting a new job, taking a stand or learning something new.

Page from the Workbook


The weekly planner is designed to support people on a regular basis, to reflect on the week that’s been and the one ahead.


Getting to the tools and working out how to structure the information was messy. Cassie and I spent a weekend, with a pile of post-its, thumbed copies of Dancing on the Edge and a large white wall. By the end of it, we’d captured the core ideas. If you want to nerd out, here’s a doc with the essence. We checked in with Dancing on the Edge authors, Graham and Maureen to see if our approach resonated. Conversations with media planners, content developers and creatives steered us on how to structure the content, the brilliant illustrator Emily Macaulay came across our paths and le voila.

We hope these tools will help you see how and where you’re already navigating complexity, perhaps without even realising it, and that you are not alone in that. We hope they will help validate some of your behaviours/ priorities/ habits, which you thought were strange, but are actually really wise ways of being right now.

Here’s to helping each other get through the never-ending weirdness!

Here’s a video from our launch event where we talk through the tools and hear from Alysha Ali, Partnerships Manager at gal-dem, Kiran Kaur, Co-founder and CEO Girl Dreamer and Kira Charlton — Advisory Panel Member and Peer Researcher from the Young Women’s Trust.

Uncertain Times has been created by Cassie Robinson & Ella Saltmarshe with support from The International Futures Forum. Illustrations by Emily Macaulay



Ella Saltmarshe

Narrative. Systems. Culture. Co-founder The Long Time Project, The Comms Lab, The Point People.