What would you do if you entered a dark corridor? Probably, move cautiously and look for a source of light. It’s what social psychologist Arie Kruglanski calls cognitive closure – our instinctive need for answers, dislike for ambiguity, and longing for certainty.
Despite our dislike for uncertainty, studies show that tolerance for ambiguity benefits creative thinking and problem solving. Uncertainty is also the new normal at our work environment today. Rather than escape, avoid, or allow it to swamp you, experts suggest embracing it through two practices.
Practice 1: See it as a growth tool
Doug Sundheim, coach and consultant, views uncertainty as the, “fertile ground needed to foster creativity, growth, and progress.” Not seeing a road ahead means there’s a chance to create it. Assess and reframe the situation to focus on opportunities, through questions such as:
- If we assume the situation (example: economic uncertainty) stays bad for two more years, who will fare the best and who will be most affected?
- What are the implications of the uncertain situation for us?
- What should we do next?
This shifts the energy and builds momentum to act, creating the proverbial silver lining in grey times.
Practice 2: Build predictability
Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day – a black turtle neck t-shirt and jeans. Some people even eat same dishes for meals. Such predictability in some aspects of our lives makes enduring ambiguity in others easy. It prevents decision fatigue and saves cognitive energy. Innovation expert Jonathan Fields suggests ritualizing day-to-day activities to get more mental space to deal with other unknowns.
Another tip: replace expectations with plans. Writer Lori Deschene says focus on what you can do to create the experience you want, instead of merely hoping for things to go your way. Wesley Palmisano, President and CEO of construction company Palmisano, echoes: concentrate on what you can control, not what you can’t.
Uncertainty brings fear and anxiety. But we can train our mind to overcome it, just as we would while building skills in different domains. As Fields argues, “Great art, new and innovative ideas all happen in the face of uncertainty. If you wait to get all the information before moving forward, then you aren’t creating. You are just repeating because someone else has done it before.”
What other tips do you have to soar in the wake of uncertainty? Share them with us.