Black and white

I’ve been getting bent out of shape recently. Not literally. Mentally. And it’s to do with a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. Ambiguity.

The Latin root of the word ‘ambiguity’ is shared by ‘amble,’ which means ‘to wander about.’ In my humble opinion  the best conversations wander about all over the place. Random and off piste is the way forward in my book. Makes things quite entertaining on occasion too.

In business, however, I’ve always thought this approach wasteful. My view is pretty black and white. I don’t really do shades of grey. My default setting is to get straight to the point rather than spend ages talking about what we might possibly think about intending to do some day…

For some reason I’ve got worse (or better depending on your viewpoint) at dealing with ambiguity recently. Previously I’d suffer it and gently coerce the conversation down the right avenue to get to the desired result. These days any kind of ambiguity gets short shrift. And I mean really short shrift.

But maybe I’m being naïve in my approach? Go with me for a second on this one…

It may appear paradoxical, but a little ambiguity can sometimes pave the way to clarity. Certainty is about limits, but ambiguity is about flexibility. By exploring the ambiguity it often becomes clear that there are many answers to the same question, none of which are completely correct.

Think about evolution for a second. Ambiguity drives evolution.

Really?  Ermm yes.

How would a primitive life form adapt to a hostile environment? Would it develop wings and the ability to fly, powerful legs and the ability to run, or camouflage and the ability to hide? Because the outcome is in doubt, the possibilities are endless. If the outcome were certain, there would be no further advances.

So maybe we have good reason to welcome a little ambiguity. After all we wouldn’t be here without it.

4 thoughts on “Black and white

  1. Interesting link with evolution. Darwinists talk about experimentation in the same context. There’s apparently a frog somewhere with an eyelid on the roof of it’s mouth – ‘Give it a go, see what happens. Woops. No use there, then. Let’s try it somewhere else’.

    So it is with ambiguity, it seems to me. As you wisely say, going straight to the point implies that there is only one point. In so much of life, there are many possible routes and the value is not in finding the ‘right’ one but the one everyone else can live with. Giving space to find something different can be very frustrating but ultimately rewarding.

    • One of my closest friends has proffered this advice to me on occasion: “Sometimes you have to sit with stuff – it can be really uncomfortable to do this – but its these times when we allow stuff to *be* that we can better think the process through and make the right judgement.”

      As you say its the giving it space bit thats important. Frustrating, awkward yet ultimately able to offer a new and sometimes enlightening perspective.

  2. yeh, not just that though – ambiguity* is sometimes necessary to to hold a loose political confederation of actors together even in the rational and functional world of “business”… bringing too much clarity to the wrong situation, however attractive to analytical type like me, can be brutal.

    * ‘interpretive flexibility’ is a concept worth a look as well

    h/t @FlipChartRick for the RT that got me here

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