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Embracing Ambiguity

Embracing Ambiguity

Author: Kelly Nordstrom

This lesson discusses ambiguity, how it can be handled, and how to leverage it.


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Introduction to Psychology

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Thank you for joining need for this tutorial on embracing ambiguity. As you can see here, this lesson discusses ambiguity, how it can be handled, and how to leverage it. So let's get started.

So let's get started. What are our objectives? Well, we're going to talk about ambiguity-- what is it? Are there techniques for handling ambiguity? Yes, there are, and we'll go over a few today. How can ambiguity be leveraged to our benefit?

So let's get started. What is ambiguity? This generally means a lack of clarity or certainty. It's a lack of structure with precision. So here we have our team. And as you can see, these arrows are in all different areas. They're not structured, they're not uniform. Situations such as creative areas or areas that have many evolutions-- you can see it can go in many different directions. There are possible directions, there are possible solutions. And it's important to be flexible enough or fluid enough to look outside of the box and evaluate these areas.

Oftentimes, people have a negative reaction to ambiguity, and they want to clarify things as soon as possible so they can feel comfortable. And they tend to lean on previous methods. Now, we're going to find ambiguity in situations that involve teams working in evolving areas such as technology, or they're involved in the creative process that changes often. So while this flexibility and this lack of structure can pose an issue for many teams, some level of ambiguity is inevitable, so it's worth our time to be comfortable with this.

And here's why-- if we resist ambiguity, we tend to rush solutions, we ignore complex areas or areas that may raise flags, and we're hesitant to try out new roles. This leads to negative capability. Deliberately exploring ambiguous areas can be a powerful tool. You may push yourself to a potential you didn't even know you were capable of reaching. It's important to be flexible and explore these areas, these possible directions, these possible solutions.

Flexibility and ambiguity are linked. They go hand in hand. People who have developed a high tolerance for unclear situations, lack of structure, are generally able to be more flexible. They're willing to try new roles and they tend to handle complex situations effectively, whereas individuals who are resistant tend to handle change poorly.

So when we're faced with ambiguous situations, what can we do to reduce the stress associated with it? What are some techniques for handling ambiguity? Well, we can understand why a situation is ambiguous. We can ask ourselves these questions-- what are the unique and complex elements of the situation? What is the hallmark of complexity?

Can we use it as a cue to identify the elements involved in the situation and how they interact with each other? Are there conflicting positions that need to be addressed? Where are the factors involved, and how can we avoid oversimplifying them or rushing to a solution to avoid conflict and reduce ambiguity? It's important to understand where the unknowns are. Situations may be unclear because there are areas that are unknown or only partially defined.

That's OK. This presents an opportunity to research or analyze and look at these areas. This is the opportunity to cast new light into these areas by asking questions and looking into those complex areas. And it may be time to acknowledge that some areas cannot be easily fixed or resolved, and this is where we discover new alternatives.

And we need to accept that there is no one right answer. This is where we start to think outside the box. This is where you ask yourself, am I pushing too hard for one solution or one right answer?

We need to be comfortable that there may not be one right answer. There may be many effective ways of doing things. Accepting that there is no one right way increases the ability to tolerate a situation where the answer is unclear. Trusting your own perspective is important when are many approaches to analyze. Do you have a good understanding of each team member's strengths?

It is logical to analyze the approaches that are a good fit for the team, and this means understanding the individual strengths that are offered. Solutions generally float up by leveraging the capabilities and the strengths of all the people involved in the team, not to mention adding skills and resources where needed.

We have to be willing to risk consequences. But before we jump too quickly, what are the consequences of each possible solution? Since there are trade-offs or blind leaps of faith regardless of what path is taken, sometimes risk is unavoidable, and it may be important to root your direction in the team's best guess, which is usually a better idea than taking no action at all.

So on the note of discovering positive ways to handle ambiguity, we have leveraging ambiguity, where you can see we have two teams here-- one side is embracing ambiguity. The other side, in the square, is not. As I mentioned before, ambiguous situations are generally found in creative areas. Methods and processes that have been established and therefore previously relied upon time and time again provide no opportunity for innovation, collaboration, and improvements on the methods and techniques used, so it's important to establish goals with flexibility. This welcomes new methods and details that can bring unexpected new solutions, new ways of doing things.

I mentioned earlier that creating a deliberate situation that involves ambiguity can be helpful. Creativity is constrained when we're using the same methods by the same rote, technique, that we've used over and over again because it's worked in the past, which ultimately renders that method, technique, and process ineffective. By questioning methods or underlying assumptions, a team can introduce ambiguity, and therefore possibly discover new ways of doing things.

New solutions can be introduced by focusing on the end goals rather than the process in place. By looking at the end goal and ignoring the current processes in place, you may find a new path to a new solution. This is the time to reach for the stars. You can temporarily put aside existing resources and skills to avoid that hammer and nail syndrome.

Create something new. Throw it out there. Brainstorm. Collaborate. Avoid evaluating each step, and simply generate possibilities. Later in the process, logistics can be identified and the realistic nature of achieving these new ways can be created, but these approaches serve the purpose of widening that thinking beyond the box and pulling yourself out of an entrenched old way of doing things.

So this concludes today's tutorial on embracing ambiguity. Let's take a look at our objectives, make sure we met them. What is ambiguity? We were discussing that it's a lack of structure, precision, and detail. It's more fluid.

Are there techniques for handling ambiguity? Of course there are. We discussed a few-- identifying the unknowns, trusting your own perspective, accepting that there may not be one right answer, and being willing to risk it.

How can ambiguity be leveraged? We just talked about using ambiguity to pull and lift a team out of entrenched, old systems, and allowing new solutions and new methods and techniques to be implemented. Thank you for joining me for this tutorial. I hope to see you again soon.