Ambiguity is the new black


Photo by Paul Crock

I challenged a team that I was coaching the other day to ‘up their tolerance for ambiguity’ – they didn’t like it.

We look to the past for lessons learned from previous experience. We base future decisions and actions on insights gained. But what if the challenges we face are “wicked problems” and have never been faced before? What if the wisdom of the past won’t help us to create the brilliant strategy of the future?

We like things to be neat, tied down, put to rest, the right answer.

As part of a leadership course we run, we make space for ambiguity – not to be perverse – but to develop the capacity for operating with uncertainty.  Participants often pushback “I don’t know what you want… am I doing this right?

Work is complex now, we have matrix organisations, multi channels for customers, agile workspaces, revolutionary change in every industry, competitors who can also be collaborators. It’s enough to give you a headache.

So what can we use to anchor us when the way forward is ambiguous?  

Identify Your Values – What qualities would you like people to see in you as you go about your work and life and how can you let these guide you?

Take Action – don’t wait for the “full picture” or 100% certainty or you will be left behind.

Conduct Bold (but not too large) Experiments – that you can recover from if they fail.

Change Direction when things aren’t working. You will need to be flexible. Reflect, correct and build as you go.

Listen to your Instincts and the Advice of Others

At Changeable we are collaborating with one of our competitors to develop something in the digital space. Do we have a clear idea of what that is? No. Do we feel uncertain and unsure? Yes.

Is that just a little bit exciting? You betcha.

Ambiguity is the new black.

* If you want to read more, check out “The Ambiguity Advantage” by David Wilkinson or “Not Knowing” by Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner

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