The Power of Accepting (and Thriving In) Ambiguity


3 min read

Comfort zones are, you guessed it, comfortable. We have all the answers, we know how things are going to go and we like it that way. Who could blame us? The problem is that reality – and growth – doesn’t buy in to the idea of the status quo. In the real world, entropy reigns supreme. A quick definition of entropy is “a lack of order or predictability.” And given that entropy is the natural state of things, thriving in this kind of ambiguity begins with accepting that there are good reasons why ambiguity can lead us to successful outcomes. I’ve listed some reasons below why there is real power in embracing ambiguity.

Ambiguity is the hallmark of creativity

Creativity is all about coming up with new approaches to age-old challenges but creativity is rarely – if ever – a neat and clean process. In order to bring something new into the world whether it’s a song, a product or a business strategy, ambiguity is a necessary part of the process. By accepting that the creative process is going to be messy for a time, we can remove some of the resistance we have to our creative work. Ultimately, by living with and working through the ambiguity, we will arrive at novel solutions which would have remained unattainable had we insisted on coloring inside the lines.

Ambiguity is a necessary precursor to innovation

While ambiguity is a critical part of the innovative process, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that it is only a part of that process. However uncomfortable the ambiguity and chaos inherent in innovation may be, ambiguity isn’t the final destination but rather an essential part of the journey. By taking a longer view of the innovative process, we can come to understand and welcome the ambiguity that can lead to truly dramatic and lasting innovation. Attempting to shortcut the process by either avoiding or minimizing the ambiguous elements will only result in half-baked or ineffective innovations. It is only through accepting ambiguity that we can find our way through to the other side.

Ambiguity leads to breakthrough

Speaking of the other side, breakthrough is the ultimate goal of any effective creative or innovative endeavor. That being said, breakthroughs don’t come cheap. The fee for breakthrough ideas and strategies is the discomfort that comes from swimming around in the “soup” of uncertainty and confusion. However, paying that fee can lead to significant change and success. While it might not feel like it at the beginning of the process, ambiguity is a fee well worth paying.

Conclusion

In my years spent in the creative and innovative trenches, I’ve never found a shortcut that avoids ambiguity. I’d be lying if I told you I don’t still feel a tremor of uncertainty – and even fear – before I lead an organization through the ambiguous process of writing a song about the critical organizational challenge they’re currently facing but my experience tells me that a little bravery in confronting ambiguity goes a long way towards successful and consistent innovation.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

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