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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Navigating the ‘new era of certain uncertainty’

James H. Johnson Jr.

In an increasingly volatile and complex world, the only certainty is uncertainty, says James H. Johnson Jr., a distinguished economic development and impact researcher and demographer in Kenan-Flager Business School. Cultivating a University ecosystem that can prosper in a time of continuous change is paramount, he said. But even more important is preparing students to navigate and thrive in this new world order.

“We must be able to demonstrate as a University that we are prepared to respond,” said Johnson, William R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the business school and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center in the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Entrepreneurship. “But an even bigger question for us as a University is to make sure our education curriculum aligns with these global realities.”

Johnson will lead the next Carolina Conversation on this topic. From the 9/11 terrorist attacks to natural disasters to school shootings and President Trump’s State of the Union address —wide-ranging political, economic and social unrest has shaped and defined this era. He also has a list of skills that students who graduate from Carolina will need to “survive, thrive and prosper” in it.

“What employers today say they are looking for in the next generation of talent are individuals who can groove on ambiguity — people who can peer through the fog of certain uncertainty and find the propitious opportunity while avoiding the landmines.”

In an age where economies and industries change rapidly, and employee turnover is the new norm, a degree of “entrepreneurial acumen” is necessary.

“In this economy, I am talking about the ability to adapt to constant change,” Johnson said. “I am talking about knowing, if one door shuts in your face, how to open another one.”

Johnson’s presentation “Leading and Managing in an Era of Certain Uncertainty” begins at noon Feb. 12 in the University Conference Room of Hyde Hall. G. Rumay Alexander, associate vice chancellor and chief diversity officer, will moderate the conversation. All community members are welcome to attend.

Since 2015, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has sponsored and led Carolina Conversations to promote the campus community’s engagement in important dialogue and debate in recognition of the rising level of discourse about race, identity and political ideology.