Photo: Greg Rakozy

In our work studying how people deal with uncertainty and through our use of The Ambiguity Architect® we’re ambassadors of embracing the unknown.

So we were interested in Todd B. Kashdan‘s article in Harvard Business Review, titled, “Companies Value Curiosity but Stifle It Anyway​.”

And how.

Our work suggests that “high potentials” within organizations tend to rate highly on managing uncertainty. And a big part of this involves curiosity. In fact, we named the first enabler of ambiguity-tolerant behavior, “Mystery Seeking.” Later, we also advocate “seeking faint signals.” Confronting, seeking and embracing ambiguity is all about curiosity.

According the Kashdan’s findings, organizations would be wise to encourage mystery seeking throughout the organization, but just as importantly they should also encourage “listening to the mystery seekers.”

…While 84% reported that their employers encouraged curiosity, 60% said they had also encountered barriers to it at work.—Todd B. Kashdan.

It’s interesting to note that Kashdan’s study rates the automotive industry among the “laggards” of curiosity, while household and personal products are noted as leaders. Maybe carmakers could learn a thing or two from the famous example of Swiffer.

But if you aren’t Proctor & Gamble and you can’t hire a team of leading researchers to study today’s challenges in your organization, here are some quick suggestions to prime the creativity pump from Dr. Randall P. White’s article in CLO.

Mastering uncertainty is learned over time, and the skills to do it should be included in the curriculum of leadership development initiatives. Here are three simple coaching suggestions.

  1. Learn to make a decision with incomplete information. Take a decision you would normally agonize over and, instead, make this decision based only on what you know now. Write it down and seal it in an envelope. Then, go through the normal cycle time of decision making. After the normal decision-making process is complete, get out the sealed decision and compare and contrast. Would you have made the same decision? Could you have made the decision yourself at the earlier stage and saved energy, time and money?

  2. Read around. Train your mind to be fluid and attuned to faint signals of impending change. Uncertainty is the ocean on which we sail. Reading around is a way of understanding that ocean and coming to terms with the inevitability of ambiguity.

  3. Examine five ideas or trends that you know nothing about, but that will affect the business in three to five years. Consider how they may or may not affect your products, services and jobs. Discuss how you can prepare for them.