Embracing Ambiguity - A Strategy For Problem Solving

-Nadine Kotval

Often times we find ourselves struggling to solve problems that have no clear or defined answers. Embracing ambiguity in these circumstances is not always comfortable but it frees you to pursue a spectrum of possibilities, which would allow you to reach potential solutions that work for people. It is essentially about giving yourself the permission to explore multiple options and enable various diverse ideas to co-exist simultaneously. As you analyse a complex problem, it is not uncommon to stumble across a range of ideas that do not seem relevant all at once but that we find ourselves reluctant to let go of. It is important to hold onto these amorphous concepts until we are able to fit them into the solution puzzle or ready to discard them in favour of more suitable alternatives.

As human beings, we enjoy having a sense of predictability and control. Uncertainty and insecurity tend to induce anxiety. Our brain processes information by connecting and categorizing data. As soon as we encounter new information, our natural inclination is to immediately make sense of it by recognizing patterns, compartmentalizing, contextualizing and deciding if it is relevant enough to focus on further. Through this repetitive process, we slowly accumulate habits and routines that are built on predictability; this reduces the possibility of thinking in different ways and enhancing our problem solving skills. The way children respond to new information is very different; they demonstrate a heightened sense of curiosity and innovation in their thinking. As they grow and learn to recognize patterns and rely upon predictability these senses are subdued.

Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, embracing ambiguity lends itself to creativity that can result in unexpected solutions. It is not easy not knowing the answer and even less so, not knowing the right questions to ask. But if we knew the answer when we started, what could we possibly learn? Would we be able to devise the same creative solutions? Accepting uncertainty enables us to pursue answers that we cannot initially conceive but which put us on the path to innovation and impact. Simply allowing our thoughts and ideas to percolate around within our minds and take shape in the process can lead to insightful solutions.

When things are vague and indefinite, there are possibilities to forge new paths, shape opportunities and configure different possible outcomes. Successful leaders and companies harness their ability to manage, operate and lead in an ambiguous environment and take advantage of it to create new services, processes, products and solutions to complex problems. We must all strive to exploit the uncertainty we encounter and use it to develop our critical thinking and unleash our creative potential so the right answer can reveal itself.