Ambiguity is inevitable. Don’t avoid it and add fuel to the fire. Embrace it.
Business schools teach a basic axiom for success. “Impact that which you can impact and ignore the rest.” This applies to moments like this. Do what you can do and don’t worry about the rest. Easier said than done.
“I need your advice on getting our team to embrace ambiguity.” This is an email from a manager of a large global customer service team. Asking a team to “embrace ambiguity” is a euphemism for offering grace to a chaotic leadership team. This manager knows that and so does the team. But in this fast-growing company no one is to blame. The market and the complexity of the product make it impossible to predict outcomes with any confidence.
I’m reminded of what my father used to say when facing the unknown, “When in doubt, throw spaghetti against the wall.” It was his way of lightening up the moment and giving us kids something to do. The problem was we often took him literally. The kitchen would be a mess. With that scene in mind, I’m thinking about my advice to this manager. I’d best be specific and action-oriented or the results won’t be pretty.
So here’s where I landed: 5 Simple Steps To Embrace Ambiguity
- Get the team to openly discuss what ambiguity is.
How is it bad? But how is it good?
- Remind them why there is ambiguity.
They are on the front end of something innovative, challenging, and new. So they’re creating in addition to implementing. Make sure they know that.
- Define ambiguity in contrast with vagueness.
Ambiguity means you have plausible defined outcomes. You just don’t know which one’s coming. Vagueness means you can’t even form an idea of an outcome. A big, critical difference.
- Then consider the possible responses:
– Judge it, complain, and be bitter.
– Give up, lose energy, and be helpless.
– Accept it as real, embrace it, and get to work.
- C is the obvious answer. So you move into offering strategies:
– Quoting Steve Jobs, “Put your head down and do your work.”
– Focus on the defined outcomes versus wasting energy on the unknown.
– If you can’t find inspiration at work, then focus on something personal that inspires you.
The point of all these strategies is to distract yourself while being productive. This gives the market and your leaders time to find the right path.
Business schools teach a basic axiom for success. “Impact that which you can impact and ignore the rest.” This applies to moments like this. Do what you can do and don’t worry about the rest. Easier said than done. Oh and don’t forget, encourage the team to help each other get through this. Ambiguity is best faced with helpful company.