Ambiguity is here to stay


“This is so difficult – I don’t have enough details to estimate”
“Changes, changes, changes – this is why I had told not to get into this project ”
“How can I decide on this – the client has hardly given us enough information, I hate to be in this situation”

Do these sound familiar?

Every day in our professional & personal lives we are faced with ambiguous situations – when we lack information, time and precedent. Yet, we need to take a decision. In fact, as we move forward in our careers, I feel this becomes an important differentiating factor – since it also allows a person who deals with ambiguity well to take up risks and challenges which others do not…

So, what are the traits for effectively dealing with ambiguity? Microsoft’s education competencies enlists the following –
• Can effectively cope with change;
• Can shift gears comfortably;
• Can decide and act without having the total picture;
• Can comfortably handle risk and uncertainty

Now that we know that we must deal with ambiguity to be successful , lets figure out what are those behavior and tactics that we must adopt…

1. Nothing will ever be perfect, live with a margin for error – If we wait for everything to be perfect, you will lose your window of opportunity.
2. Failure is just a stepping stone to success – Most of our inherent resistance to ambiguous situations is because we are afraid of failure. “What will people think if I fail?”… shuts our minds off from taking the opportunities around. Increase our ability to learn from our mistakes by designing immediate feedback loops. Learn from mistakes and move on.
3. Embrace Change – It is the only thing constant – Start every day feeling that something change will happen, something unexpected will come up.. Once you condition your mind to anticipating change to happen, your resistance to it will disappear, and you would be focusing your energies on how to handle it.
4. Define the problem, visualize and know the risks you are taking – Defining the problem, and breaking it down into parts is a key skill that all leaders must possess. Visualization works beautifully for me – to be able to draw out options, write them on paper or the white board so that you know the options considered, and why you chose a particular one over other at that time
5. Continuously look “beneath the surface” to anticipate potential changes…

Having said this, at no time, I am saying that we should not be asking for additional information, get the details that may be important to take a decision. However, we will need to decide how much information is right for you to make a decision… a tricky question at most times?

I have found the following rule by Colin Powell very useful –
Part I: “Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.”
Part II: “Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.”

Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late.

Next time you are faced with ambiguous situation – feel comfortable with it, don’t worry too much about final outcome, and firmly believe that “Only good things will happen”…

And yes, ambiguity is here to stay…. Embrace it!!

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7 thoughts on “Ambiguity is here to stay

    • 🙂 Thanks Manoj.. ability to work through ambiguity is really one of the important differentiators as one climbs up the corporate ladder!

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