Who among us has not wished for the safety of predictability when faced with a derailed project, or an unexpected client request, or an emergency that has tossed out our schedule? And yet, thinkers like Nissim Taleb, the author of Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, believe that the ability to thrive on disorder is just as human, and particularly vital in our VUCA world, where unpredictability and change are constants.
Just what does thriving on disorder mean?
To Nissim Taleb, who defines this as antifragility, it allows us to deal with the unknown without necessarily understanding it.
To Jamie Holmes, author of Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, it means using ambiguity to induce creativity.
To Gary Pisano, professor at Harvard Business School, it means making uncertainty part of your strategy by making room for flexibility.
To each of us being able to thrive on disorder means developing a tolerance for ambiguity, even a taste for it, that would lead to a difference in the way we approach challenges, goals, and relationships at work.
For instance, being able to embrace uncertainty would mean being able to jump into a new project that does not have a playbook yet. Or you may be able to take the plunge into a new role and help train new recruits. Maybe it will help you unlock creative solutions for a business problem that does not offer clear answers. These possibilities could open up when you develop a tolerance for ambiguity and find ways to thrive in such situations. Here are some ways in which you can make the most of ambiguity:
- Practice mindfulness
For most people, moments of uncertainty can be tough. Researchers have discovered that disrupting people’s sense of stability can make them seek closure prematurely in other aspects of their life. For instance, uncertainty about an upcoming management review could make someone resolve another problem prematurely, overlooking some not so obvious solutions. Practicing mindfulness and constant self-awareness around your emotions and thoughts can make it easier to spot situations where discomfort around uncertainty could be forcing you into a rash or premature decision or action.
- Act with honesty and courage
As a manager, being masterful over uncertain situations can be vital to transmitting confidence to your team mates and helping them perform better. By stepping out your comfort zone, honestly accepting ambiguous situations as they occur, and helping your team handle uncertainty by offering them specific milestones to work with, you can help your team mates feel more comfortable processing ambiguity.
- Take control by testing the waters
Leadership coach Melody Wilding suggests taking the edge out of the unknown by breaking it down into smaller experiments, almost like rapid prototyping. For instance, if the ambiguity you are facing is around the potential success of a new project, then consider testing a new metric that could work or make a scaled down version of the project to test its viability.
As we get more comfortable with being at our best and thriving through change and uncertainty, an appetite for ambiguity could help us encounter new situations with creativity and flexibility.