The Challenges of a VUCA World – Ambiguity

VUCA is a practical code for awareness and readiness defining a set of conditions in which decisions are made. Ambiguity describes the haziness of reality, the potential for miscommunication, and the mixed meanings of conditions.

Ambiguity is the Enemy of Ambition

If ambition is the “strong desire to achieve something”, ambiguity is the nagging doubt that prevents you from moving forward. Ambiguity is the enemy of ambition.

Ambiguity is the lack of clear meaning and the inability to make a decision because there are just too many options to choose from.

It is the fuzzy-headed feeling at the end of a meeting when no-one knows exactly what’s been decided. Ambiguity is the opposite of clarity.

Mixed messages, conflicts of interest, and multiple demands all create an atmosphere of ambiguity that makes progress towards a common goal that much harder. And whilst ambiguity can result in uncertainty, a situation can be uncertain but not remotely ambiguous. In fact uncertainty can create an environment where anything is possible – take AirBnB for example.

Ambiguity is a Stumbling Block

In most working environments we have to make decisions without having the whole picture, handling risk and uncertainty to one extent or another. However ambiguity is a definite stumbling block. Whether it’s a client who can’t make up their mind or a colleague who won’t commit to a project, ambiguity can be frustrating and unsettling.

If clarity enables us to proceed with confidence, ambiguity muddies the waters and prevents progress from being made. We want decisiveness, clear direction, and definite results. So what if we could gain the confidence we need to achieve that despite chaotic and ambiguous conditions along the way?

How to Proceed with Confidence

The global design and strategy firm known as frog, describe the inevitable ambiguity in their design process and how it’s become an accepted part of what they do –

“Indeed, the process for the most part requires long periods of hard work, and frustration is par for the course. “There is often a moment of complete confusion and stress,” Hoek says, describing the massive amount of information and the many conflicting objectives designers inevitably have to juggle. “There are trade-offs you need to make, compromises you need to figure out.” He compares this moment to traveling through a small dark tunnel, when “there seems to be no way out.”

But there is always a way out. “Suddenly things start clicking. Little nuggets from the research come up that make the team go, ‘Wait—this is totally different from what we expected.’ And then a path becomes visible, and insights emerge from that chaos moment, and things start falling into place.”

If ambiguity is part of the process, whether that process is creative or strategic, then it’s vital that we don’t try to avoid it. If we can learn how to work our way through it, we are more likely to come out better equipped for success on the other side.

A Vital Leadership Tool

In fact Harvard Business Review considers that learning how to handle ambiguity can be a vital leadership tool

“Facing highly ambiguous challenges will help managers develop a set of tools that prepare them for the uncertainties they will increasingly encounter as they ascend up the corporate ladder.”

One of the opportunities we provide for our participants at Moving Performance are learning experiences, where you can work through potentially ambiguous situations. For example, composing music and writing songs which most of us have never done before. Through this experience delegates work on how they behave in that environment. We help them develop positive leadership skills, as well as more productive team behaviour, that will respond more effectively to ambiguity in the workplace.

The musical exercise in this situation is the catalyst for learning and is something that everyone (even the majority of trained musicians) will find ambiguous. Recognising and developing the skills to cope with that ambiguity in the midst of a safe environment is a unique opportunity which we’re delighted to facilitate.

Equipping You for the Inevitable

VUCA describes a whole set of conditions which we will all face at some time – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Learning how to respond in the midst those conditions is the challenge.

Our work with businesses and other organisations equips people for those challenges, enabling them to grow in emotional intelligence, good communication and vital leadership skills.

We have found that because music impacts everyone, it is a fabulous medium to address key corporate objectives…

Music is a powerful metaphor for business, which inspires and facilitates change in individuals and organisations. To experience that for yourself, contact us today for a free consultation.

This post is part of a series on VUCA – The Challenges of a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous World.