Dealing with Ambiguous Situations
Ambiguous situations are usually characterized by conflicting signals, signals intertwined with background noise, disconnection between actions and events, and suspension of expected cause-effect relationship. We are in the reaches of complexity, non-linearity, and/or discontinuities; our cognitive biases don’t fit, the situation doesn’t align with any of our mental frames, we can’t recall past analogies. What is one to do?
The phrase that comes to mind is, “think outside the box”. Isn’t that where we are with an ambiguous situation; outside our box? I’ve always been fond of saying that I don’t have a box. The reality is that some of us just have bigger boxes than others, mostly because of more life experiences, education or we are natural integrative thinkers.
For the ambiguous situation, you have to think (noodle it out). I know I’m asking a lot, from some. First, check your biases. Is one of them causing the ambiguity, if so, why? Does it need to be reset? Second, check your mental frames? Are the two frameworks out of alignment because your underlying assumptions need to be adjusted? Third, is the lack of analogies a lack of experience or are you attempting to apply old experience models to a novel situation? Finally, if you are up against a roadblock, call for outside help. This can be a more senior person or someone from the outside who can provide a fresh view.
The ultimate solution is to become an Integrative Thinker. Integrative thinking is an art form. It embraces complexity and its causal relationships; has a high tolerance for change, openness, flexibility, and disequilibrium; welcomes surprises and disconfirming data. It involves an iterative, heuristic process, expanding the number of salient variables, exploring their causal relationships, examining the problem in a sequential fashion while maintaining an overall perspective of all variables and their causal relationships, developing an integrative solution.