Most people prefer things that feel familiar, certain, and safe. In order to create those circumstances, they seek our situations where they can have clear guidance on what to do and how to act. As we put it in Explore or Expire, “the known world provides stability to our way of life.”
Unfortunately, this certainty and safety is hard to come by in situations with ambiguity, or when you face the unknown. Not only that, but relying on the familiar can lead to complacency and misunderstandings. When we assume we’ve found certainty, we can miss the mark on opportunities for growth and development without even realizing they’ve passed us by. That creates the circumstances for creating clarity to help us deal with ambiguity.
Once you’ve become aware that you’re in the unknown, we suggest embracing it and the ambiguity it brings. By choosing to navigate the unknown, instead of avoiding it, you are taking the path with more friction. It will be a challenge. But in the end, it will help you create clarity for your situation.
Using Exploratory Leadership to Deal with Ambiguity
In life, you will face both knowns and unknowns. The known zone is inhabited by tried and true systems, conventional wisdom, and data. The unknown zone, on the other hand, is characterized by possibilities, asking questions, taking action, and reflecting.
When you find yourself in ambiguous situations, awareness that you’re in the unknown is the first step to finding clarity. The next step is to reframe your mindset and embrace clarity, rather than certainty. As we’ve said, you’re unlikely to find certainty in the unknown. By embracing clarity instead, you can unlock comfort in the unknown. Only then can you truly create the clarity you seek.
By using the principles of Exploratory leadership, you can leverage skills and the mindset needed to adeptly navigate the unknown and unlock new possibilities. Create a world where you have clarity and can thrive. Move beyond your comfort zone and into ambiguity with more ease with this advice from Studio/E and other Exploratory Leaders on creating clarity when dealing with ambiguity.
Find Your Purpose
“Purpose creates energy and resilience, and serves as a filter so you can focus on what is essential."
When you have a strong sense of purpose, you can better align your actions and goals. When you face ambiguity, your purpose can help you stay focused. Move through the ambiguity with your purpose as your optimal mental model.
“Amplified awareness is the ability to consistently notice, assess, and respond to what’s going on both within you and around you.”
— Pilar Gerasimo, health journalist, author, illustrator
As we say in Explore or Expire, “Be aware if you are in the known or the unknown zones so you can select the right tools for better outcomes.” Having a finely tuned sense of awareness of the known and unknown will help you understand which zone you’re in and how to succeed in it.
“As humans, we have an innate need to explore, to see what’s around the corner.”
— Jimmy Chin, mountaineering legend and Oscar-winning filmmaker
You’re getting in your own way when you resist the unknown. Your mind wants to explore it. Instead of resisting, embrace the unknown and allow yourself to see its opportunities. Even if dealing with ambiguity is uncomfortable, trust that you’re capable. In turn, you’ll unlock your true potential to create clarity from the unknown.
Take Small Steps
“What is that small thing you need to change…to change the really big thing?"
— Greg McKeown, author and teacher
You don’t need to have every step of the process figured out to create clarity. Instead, consider smaller increments of progress. Focusing on minimum viable progress, or MVP, helps you to gain momentum. Once you’ve started, your clarity will be compounded.
“Better is perfect.”
In the unknown, action precedes clarity. Anything you can do to take action and move forward will bring you closer to clarity, even if you’re not doing everything “perfectly.” By taking action — and making the minimum viable progress — you’ll be gathering information that will help you reach clarity in the future.
Follow Shackleton’s Advice
“First optimism, secondly patience, third imagination, and fourthly courage.”
— Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic explorer
When in doubt, follow the advice of Ernest Shackleton. First, be confident and hopeful. You have the tools and skills you need to create clarity. As with above, trust yourself and your instincts. Next, don’t rush the process of creating clarity. As you investigate the unknown and embrace the Curious Explorer’s Mindset, clarity will come. Be imaginative. Take this as an opportunity to find new possibilities and approach challenges with new perspectives. Last, be courageous. Accept that ambiguity can be uncomfortable, but face it anyway.
Dealing With Ambiguity Can Be Easy
Finally, remember these words from Benjamin Zander, a musician, conductor, and educator: “It’s all invented.” The mindset of ambiguity being challenging is one you’ve imposed on yourself, and so are other limitations that you’ve adopted from those around you. If you accept that many of your own limitations are self-imposed, you will open yourself up to new possibilities and a life where you can thrive.
Need help embracing this new mindset? Learn more about mindset, purpose, dealing with ambiguity and more in “Explore or Expire.” This book provides insights into Exploratory Leadership that can equip you to lead with purpose in a rapidly changing world. To guide yourself through our exercise and gain a new appreciation for ambiguity, buy “Explore or Expire” today.
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