The creative person is willing to live with ambiguity. He doesn’t need problems solved immediately and can afford to wait for the right ideas.
Let’s face it: The world is easier to master in black and white. Right or wrong. Up or down. Good or bad. Ideas and processes that mingle in ambiguity are left for someone else to figure out, a puzzle for someone else to solve. Sometimes they’re discarded all together.
What a waste.
Things don’t get better without work. (Nor do they, with all due respect to Mr. Tannenbaum, just by waiting.) It takes time and effort and sweat and maybe even a few tears to truly design a solution to a problem, or to introduce innovation to a process.
Because I’m passionate about making things better through strategic communications and collaboration, this grey area — this ambiguity — is where it’s at. I thrive here. Yes, I thrash a little too. And I doubt. I put it away and pull it back out. (Sometimes seventeen thousand or so times.) I give up and start again. But the grey is where I’m at my best. And it’s the source of the most exciting and rewarding work I’ve ever had the opportunity to know.
Making things better is an awesome proposition. It’s about solving problems. Building trust. Increasing transparency. Empowering leaders and stakeholders. No matter your work, it’s hard for me to imagine a more invigorating and rewarding thing than discovering ways to do things better, to make things better.
But making things better is also about asking the right questions (and maybe a few of the wrong questions) and never settling for the easy answers. Yes, it can become a rabbit hole, as the deeper you get in the questions and search for answers, the murkier it gets. I have waded through this process countless times, and many of those I nearly lost all connection with my original purpose. What was I trying to do, again?
But that’s okay.
Once I learned that this time wandering in the desert is necessary to the work of making things better, I stopped being afraid of ambiguity. Sure, it frustrates me sometimes — who doesn’t get impatient and willing to settle for a quick solution to a nagging problem? And by no means do I spend every day, all day, thrashing around in making-things-better mode. (Hello, nervous breakdown!) No, this is the sort of process that may include a few work sessions, but it develops in the way that the problem or question seeps into the cracks of the mind. That’s when I know I’m in the grey again. (Hello, old friend!)
Clarity can be slow in coming. Rarely do I have light bulb moments in the shower, on a run, or during breakfast. I don’t usually wake up in the middle of the night with a solution. (I do, however, wake up plenty of nights with more questions and processing.) But the longer I convince myself to linger in the grey, the better the end result.
I love the Great Idea as much as anyone. I live for it, in fact. Even the idea that can’t quite be articulated just yet, the thing that makes sense in your mind, until you try to put it into words. The idea is what wakes me up in the morning and nags me at night. It’s what fires me up to sit down and do my work. But more than anything, I love the grey area where those ideas are developed into the real solutions — innovations, approaches, systems — that make things truly better.