Uncertainty

January 25, 2020 · 6 min read


1. Risk is always connected to anxiety, fear, and criticism.

Think about the last time you had to make a decision that involved taking a gamble. How did you feel? Nervous and anxious, right?

Risk is always associated with the possibility of loss, which is what makes us so scared. When we create something, we need to give it some kind of input, such as effort or money. But if we fail, we run the risk of losing some or even all of this input.

If the possibility of loss – of money or our reputation, for example – is too high, we shy away from investing in new ideas and shut off our options in order to maintain the security and stability that already exists in our lives.

It follows, then, that those of us who have the most to lose, maybe because we have a mortgage to pay or a family to look after, are often the ones who are most wary of taking risks.

But why else do we curtail risk? Well, taking risks and thinking outside the box sometimes invites judgment, and we hate being criticized for our actions.

When we try something new, others are likely to observe us and judge us if we go against norms and traditions. This is often because others believe that following an unknown path with an unknown consequence could leave us unnecessarily exposed. This judgment may come from the people who support us, our investors or even ourselves.

But judgment and fear of criticism can be toxic to our confidence and inhibit our creativity.

Take one experiment from Harvard, which found that painters are less creative when working on commission. This is because they are forced to deliver something that matches the purchaser’s expectations rather than experiment with new things.

The reality is that uncertainty makes us uncomfortable because we don’t want to fail in front of others. But you can take action to fight this fear.

2. Only when we tolerate risk and uncertainty can we create new and innovative things.

We have just seen that fear of risk and failure often prevents us from following through with what we want to do. But does it even matter? If you have a nice stable life, why should you take risks anyway?

Because playing it safe can’t offer you the same advantages that taking a gamble does! Anything that has a predictable outcome has probably already been done by someone else. So where’s the fun in that?

Our own experience and the experiences of others lend us certainty about different subjects. The trouble is, those experiences are just approaches that have already been tested and proven. They’re not innovative. Innovation is found through _un_certainty.

Say you want to write a song but you only listen to Mozart. You could copy him and compose beautiful music, but the thought of creating a totally new musical style like Bill Haley’s rock ‘n’ roll would not occur to you.

It’s the eagerness to take on the unknown that aids innovation and creativity.

In one study, psychologist Franck Zenasni discovered that people who were willing to accept uncertainty were significantly and positively more creative. They didn’t mind a degree of ambiguity, which meant that they were prepared to press on if the solution already in place wasn’t perfect.

They were more likely to work well on complex problems, were open to more stimuli and were unsatisfied with anything other than the best possible solution.

Google is acutely conscious of this relationship, so they allow employees to invest 20 percent of their work time in new ideas and projects. The staff has nothing to lose because they don’t have to report their results. They, therefore, take risks, acknowledge uncertainty and improve their ability to solve problems, which nurtures their creativity in their own projects and their day-to-day work.

3. The right mindset + a willingness to take risks = the creation of things that matter.

We’ve all heard about innovators who continue to invest in new ideas and don’t seem at all phased at the prospect of losing everything. How is it that they can still motivate people to support them, even when there is a slim chance of the gamble paying off?

Uncertainty leads to novelty and innovation. When we push the envelope, it shows that we’re not satisfied with the status quo and that we want things to improve. So if someone is ready to take a risk, it means that they are committed to trying something out.

Moreover, staking money and reputation is only worth it if you create something of value for others and not just yourself. If others can observe your commitment and see the possibility of reward, you are more likely to persuade them to support you and your project.

Crowdfunding is a good example of how great ideas can be realized when they demonstrate innovation and meaning to others.

Teenager Boyan Slat was successful in enlisting this technique. He developed a way to clean up plastic from the ocean, and the enthusiasm he had for his idea managed to generate $2.1 million from supporters.

So how can we enter a mindset where we can commit to uncertainty? The trick is to come face-to-face with our fears. Only when we conquer these fears can we focus on our targets and increase our motivation.

Author of War and The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger, consistently overcomes his fear of failure by using it to his benefit. When the thought of failure creeps into his mind, he harnesses the energy created and uses it as a motivating force to drive his creativity.

In Review: Uncertainty Book Summary

The key message in the book:

Uncertainty is something that we all fear, and it’s especially important for creatives and professionals to learn how to deal with it. By practicing some specific techniques and receiving regular feedback, we can learn how to face our anxieties and cope with uncertainty.

Advice:

When you have a deadline in sight, stick to your routines.

Dropping everything in a panic and pulling an all-nighter (or three) will make you anxious and cloud your focus. Instead, when a deadline is approaching, maintain your social and exercise routines to ensure you stay as calm and focused as possible.

Suggested further reading: The Art Of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

Based on the author’s blog and online manifesto, “A Brief Guide to World Domination,” * The Art of Non-Conformity * deals with ways of pursuing unconventional living and offers tools for setting your own rules, succeeding with your passions and leaving a legacy.