Uncertainty and Its Impact on Creative Success

On June 9, 2012, in Book Reviews, Inspiration, by Mike D. Merrill (@mikedmerrill)

uncertainty by jonathan fieldsI was sent a copy of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields a while back from his PR agency and finally got around to reading it. Having just attended T. Harv Eker’s Millionaire Mind Intensive Workshop in Dallas I was curious to read more about conquering the power of your thoughts to manifest real impact your life. What I found in this book is worth reading and I recommend you give it a read.

The thesis of the book is that it is through uncertainty that many people achieve high-levels of creativity and innovation. So how can you gain comfort and apply practices to increase your level of creativity in this state? The author aims to answer those questions. With any journey of self-discovery it’s important to be aware of your current natural tendencies and how we are conditioned.

I found a few parallels in the introduction of the book to a few of the themes in my own life. First is the fact that uncertainty and the fear of failure and the related criticism have had a crippling effect on my ability to truly reach my potential.  While I’ve taken some serious risks in my life in the eyes of others, the last 3 years probably represent the greatest risk and yet at the same time some of the greatest moments of personal growth and achievement.

It wasn’t until I was laid off in 2009 did I first venture out on my own as a consultant and public speaker and basically reinvent my career. It was through this enormous uncertainty that I was able to reach a high-level of creativity and innovation by educating myself in online marketing, social media and gain the confidence to speak more. More importantly I was able to apply these skills with customers and learn and model best practices.

“If it’s so obvious that embracing uncertainty, risk, and criticism is essential for high-level creativity and innovation, why do so many people who have the drive to create run in the other direction the moment they feel these signposts of creation touching down?”

Ellsberg Paradox

Jonathan shares a study by Daniel Ellsberg who aimed to understand our behavior in cases of uncertainty and risk and the related differences. The basic outcome of his first experiment is that people when given the choice between uncertainty and certainty often choose certainty. Specifically they were ask to pick a ball out of an urn with 100 balls, 50 white and 50 black or from an urn with 100 balls of unknown quantify of each color. Then they were asked to bet $100 on which color ball would get chosen. Most people chose the certain outcome of 50 red and 50 white.

But what’s interesting is the addition of fear of judgment into the equation. “The more you lean into uncertainty and the greater the risks you take to create something that didn’t exist before, the greater will be the potential for you to be judged and criticized.” This fear of judgment leads to two significant questions that burden our creativity in these moments of uncertainty:

  1. Is this good enough?
  2. Am I good enough?

It is this ambiguity aversion that often leads to us giving up before a creative endeavor is even completed. Many folks start great ideas but never get them across the finish line due to their own internal second-guessing. So not only can this slow down the pace of innovation but also “the amplitude of innovation making you less tolerant of uncertainty”.

Many of the subjects in Ellsberg experiments knew they were being watched. However when the experiment was performed again and folks were told they would not have to reveal their choices publicly the results changed dramatically.

“Remarkably, eliminating the possibility of evaluation by others makes ambiguity aversion disappear entirely”

This resonated with me as I’ve struggled with worrying about what everyone else thought of my professional choices instead of just doing what made the happiest. Many of the companies I have worked valued a high Tolerance of Ambiguity was a key skill that was typically rated during performance reviews. I tended to have a high tolerance given my background in tech. What’s important though is accepting a high level of uncertainty in your professional life to truly reach your potential.

So what is holding you back from going after your dream? Is it the fear of judgment by others? Would love your thoughts and comments below.