Ambiguity’s the name of the game

Besides death and taxes, few things these days are certain. Since the global economic crisis in particular, executives and employees have been exhorted to embrace ambiguity while delivering the innovations that will guarantee future growth. Even this call is ambiguous, given than leaders still tend to be rewarded for traits like clarity and decisiveness. “Routine thinkers are often dogmatic – they see a clear route forward and they want to follow it,” says creativity and innovation writer, Paul Sloane. “If the simple route happens to be a good one then they get on with the journey. The downside is that they will likely follow the most obvious idea and not consider creative, complex or controversial choices.” It takes a substantial mindset shift to operate well in an environment where there are no absolute truths and opposite views might both be true, but it’s essential in unlocking creativity, Sloane adds. “When we mull over the interaction of two opposing ideas in our minds, the creative possibilities are legion.” Creativity needs to be viewed with some caveats, though, cautions Jonathan Fields, author of the new book, Uncertainty: Turning fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance. Yes, a tolerance for ambiguity – “the ability to live in the question” – is a touchtone for creative success. “Problem is, with rare exceptions, when faced with the need to live in the question, most people, creators included, experience anything from unease to abject fear and paralysing anxiety,” Fields says. While some brilliant souls have an innate ability to thrive in constant uncertainty, he argues that for most high-level creators, “the ability to be okay and even invite uncertainty…is trained.” Many creators in fact work in ways that contradict how the brain functions best, Field says, suggesting a range of commonsense practices to take the angst out of achievement.

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