Everyone wants to live in a black and white world. We want to know what is right and wrong. Good or bad. Left or right. Clear concise decisions with no gray area and no regrets. It’s not going to happen. The world is way too complex. We need to embrace ambiguity and march forward with no misgivings. Very little is black or white anymore. There are a million shades of gray.
Every time you venture out of bed you are entering an ambiguous world. Heck, even if you stay in bed, the ambiguous world keeps rolling along. The stock market goes up or plunges down, it snows ten feet or doesn’t rain for three years, your wireless router quits for the third time in 18 months, your partner dumps you or you find the love of your life. Nothing is certain. The only that is certain is uncertainty (oh, and death and taxes).
There is hope in all of this but you have to go through and not around. Here is my take:
• Perfection. Give up perfection. This doesn’t mean quitting. It means you need to let go. Perfectionism is a false construct. There is no end. You never get to perfect. Your ideal weight plus the perfect job plus the bulging bank account plus the sexy sports car and the perfect, patient, happy spouse will not align in The Perfect Storm. So you might get a flat tire on the way to the airport, you may not land that new job, the next project launch may not fly. Don’t keep score on perfection.
• Paralysis. There is no perfect solution. Analysis paralysis has thwarted many a decision. Just one more data point, one more month of sales, another data cut, one more project bid, or one more applicant. The only decision you are making is to not make a decision. Your team, your family, your partner, your boss are counting on you making the decision. One more data point will not make it crystal clear. Stop the analysis.
•Surrender. As my good friend, Janine, says with regard to ambiguity, “I am seeking to embrace and sit with uncertainty and not necessarily take action to move through it. More of a surrender to the ambiguity.” There are times when you have to surrender and the best action is no action but to be uncomfortable with ambiguity. I remember starting a new job for a company many years ago and on my first day they decided that the business unit was for sale. Two years later it was resolved. I had no control over the sale of the business, I surrendered to the uncertainty.
•Wrong. It’s OK to be wrong. I have grown up with a Mother who always had to be right. There was my way, everyone else’s way and then there’s my Mother’s way. The only way was her way. Being right was highly valued in my house. Being right does not embrace ambiguity. There is no acknowledgement that there might be another way. In fact as CRR Gobal espouses “everyone is right…partially.” So accept that you may be right but may be only 10% right. This allows for ambiguity and you won’t need to engage in lots of righteousness, which can be exhausting.
•Chunking. I find that many of my clients make headway when they break things into chunks. A lot of the curse of ambiguity lies in the fact that it can be overwhelming. Ambiguity is a huge monster that incites fear. When you break off an eyelash, it becomes manageable. It’s doable. It’s understandable. It’s not so scarring. Instead of it being a monster, it’s just an eyelash. And then another eyelash, and another.. When you can metaphorically hold it in your hands the ambiguity evaporates. Break it into chunks.
•Pause. Ambiguity is stressful. It’s easy to engage your lizard brain (the fight or flight or freeze mode). It’s instinctual. We all started as hunter-gathers. The lizard brain had a purpose which was to save you from a Saber-toothed Tiger or from poisonous plants. But lighting up your lizard brain all day, every day with mountains of email, the latest shooting or terrorist attack and your boss’ endless barrage of requests is simply not healthy. Yoga, meditation, a long walk or run, sitting down with a good book, anything to shut down your lizard brain will help you see ambiguity with fresh eyes.
•Agile. As Beyond Philosophy said in their article on Ambiguity, “Work on your flexibility. Be willing to change course as more information comes to light. Don’t let pride delay you from correcting your course. Ambiguity can reveal facts at any time that are going to affect your best decision.” There will be more data points that come along after you set your course. Accept them and make a course correction or completely bail out. Let go of your ego and move on. Be agile.
This not easy. There is so much ambiguity permeating life every day. It’s not just work, or your marriage or your finances. It’s omnipresent. It’s the new normal. How do you embrace ambiguity?