I was talking with a colleague at an event one of the past weeks, and I noted down the concept of ambiguity denial syndrome. And I’m retrospectively making up what we were talking about, but it’s an interesting idea to me.
So one of the ways I start out a talk (including later today for a government agency) is to talk about chaos. I use a fractal, and talk about the properties a fractal has. You know, that it’s a mathematical formulation that paints an image from which patterns emerge, yet at any point you really don’t know where it’s going to go next.
I use this to explain how our old beliefs in an ability to plan, prepare, and execute were somewhat misguided. What we did was explain away the few times it didn’t work. But as things move faster, the fact that things are not quite as certain as we’d believe means we have to become more agile, because we can less tolerate the mistakes.
The point I’m making, that the world increasingly requires an ability to deal with ambiguity and unique situations. And our learning designs, and organization designs, and our cultures, need to recognize this. And yet, in so many ways, they don’t.
At the individual level, we’re not equipping folks with the right tools. We should be providing them with models to use to interpret and adapt to situations (explain and predict). Our learning designs should have them dealing with a wide variety and degrees of certainty in situations. And we should be testing and refining them, recognizing that learners aren’t as predictable as concrete or steel. Instead we see one-shot development of information dumps and knowledge tests, which aren’t going to help organizations.
At the interpersonal level, we should be facilitating people to engage productively, facilitating the development of viable processes for working and learning together. We know that the room is smarter than the smartest person in the room (if we manage the process right), and that we’ll get the best results when we empower people and support their success. We need them working out loud, communicating and collaborating, to get the best. Instead, we still see top-down hierarchies and solo work.
In short, we see people denying the increasing complexity that the world is showing us. Implicitly or explicitly, it’s clear that many folks believe that they can, and must, control things, instead of looking to adapt on the fly. We have new organizational models for this, and yet we’re not even seeing the exploration yet. I acknowledge that change is hard, and navigating it successfully is a challenge. But we have lots of guidance here too.
Too many processes I see reflect industrial age thinking, and we’re in an information age. We have greater capacity amongst our people, and greater challenges to address, with less tolerance for mistakes. We need to address, even embrace ambiguity, if we are to thrive. Because we can, and we should. It’s the only sensible way to move forward in this increasingly complex world. So, are you ready?