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Brilliant Thinkers Relish Ambiguity

Brilliant Thinkers Relish Ambiguity

Brilliant Thinkers Relish Ambiguity

    Brilliant thinkers are very comfortable with ambiguity – they welcome it. Routine thinkers like clarity and simplicity; they dislike ambiguity. There is a tendency in our society to reduce complex issues down to simple issues with obviously clear solutions. We see evidence of this in the tabloid press. There have been some terrible crimes committed in our cities. A violent offender received what is seen to be a lenient sentence. This shows that judges are out of touch with what is needed and that heavy punishment will stop the crime wave. The brilliant thinker is wary of simple nostrums like these. He or she knows that complex issues usually involve many causes and these may need many different and even conflicting solutions.

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    Routine thinkers are often dogmatic. They see a clear route forward and they want to follow it. The advantage of this is that they can make decisive and effective executives – up to a point. If the simple route happens to be a good one then they get on with the journey. The downside is that they will likely follow the most obvious idea and not consider creative, complex or controversial choices. The exceptional thinker can see many possibilities and relishes reviewing both sides of any argument. They are happy to discuss and explore multiple possibilities and are keen to challenge conventional wisdom. People around them and subordinates can sometimes consider this approach to be frustrating and indecisive.

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    Albert Einstein was able to conceive his theory of relativity because he thought that time and space might not be immutable. Neils Bohr made breakthroughs in physics because he was able to think of light as both a stream of particles and as a wave. Picasso could paint classical portraits and yet conceive cubist representations of people.

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    How can you welcome ambiguity? First by admitting that there are few absolute truths and that for most common beliefs the opposite view might also be true. If the general view is that you can either get high quality or low price the brilliant thinker will ask, ‘Why can’t we get both? How can we deliver great quality at really affordable prices?’

    Cognitive dissonance is the concept of holding two very different ideas in your mind at the same time. This is something all the great composers do when they think of two melodic themes and how they can intertwine, adapt and combine them. We would find it very difficult to whistle one tune while thinking of an entirely different one but that is the sort of thing that Beethoven or Mozart would consider trifling. When we mull over the interaction of two opposing ideas in our minds then the creative possibilities are legion. A wind-up clock and an electrically operated radio are two very different concepts but by imagining their combination Trevor Bayliss was able to conceive of the clockwork radio. Most of us would dismiss such an idea out of hand. It seems incongruous to have a large mechanical winding device inside a small radio. And we can immediately see the drawback that the programme we were listening to would stop when the winder ran down so that we would have to get up and wind the thing again. That appears a very tedious operation. But Bayliss saw beyond these limitations and considered the needs of people in the developing world who did not have access to reliable mains electricity and who could not afford batteries. For them winding up a radio is a minor inconvenience. The clockwork radio has transformed their lives.

    If we want creative solutions and real innovations then we should welcome ambiguity. We should explore the possibilities of two different things interacting together. We should let opposites play.

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    More by this author

    Paul Sloane

    Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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