If innovating or improving things (growth!) is what you want, then experiencing ambiguity is an important signal: You are doing things right. In other words, ambiguity at the right time is a good thing.

Ambiguity is where we ask transformative questions and make discoveries. It is what we experience before we create clarity.

That is not how many professionals feel about ambiguity, however. Too often, when things are inexact, team members rush in to eliminate variability. After all, they think multiple possibilities means greater risk – and the team cannot execute effectively if the path forward is not clear.

The collaborative leader knows, however, that reducing ambiguity too soon destroys innovation. Solving a mystery prematurely may reduce variability but it eliminates potential and possibilities.

It does not help that the human brain reacts the same way to ambiguity as it does uncertainty. As Andrea Small and Kelly Schmutte share in their new book, Navigating Ambiguity, both uncertainty and ambiguity cause fight or flight responses in the brain.

The last time we checked, fighting and fleeing are not effective behaviors in the process of innovation. Therefore, building the collective awareness of your team, by asking these and similar questions, is essential:

  • How do we view the ambiguity in front of us? As a threat to our existence? Or an asset?
  • What does it look like for us to embrace – even play in – ambiguity?
  • Are we aligned to our process to move from ambiguity to creating clarity of the path forward?

Those who are winning at innovating are conscious of the fact that tomorrow must be ambiguous.

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