Getting to Yes, And

Andrea Small: Navigating Ambiguity


Andrea Small

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Kelly talks to Stanford Professor Andrea Small about her new book "Navigating Ambiguity: Creating Opportunities in a World of Unknowns."

We should probably start by defining ambiguity.

“We look at the root word, it is two words from Latin meaning to act and both ways. So, ambiguity is about holding something with multiple meetings. It's about understanding things in more than one way. It’s about multiplicities and dualities. Another way that I like to frame ambiguity is that it is different than uncertainty. Uncertainty implies that there is something to be certain about. In design innovation, in consulting, we just lump them together. But they're technically different: ambiguity is really about that multiplicity or duality of meaning.”

And our brains are wired to be wary of uncertainty, but we don’t evolve or make discovery without entering that terrain.

“Every time we encounter other people, we encounter uncertainty. Human beings are an infinite amount of variables. So, yes, when you step outside of your door, undoubtedly there's going to be something that you didn't expect that you're going to see or feel or hear or witness, and although that is difficult, we need to put ourselves in that situation, to help keep us in our curiosity.”

You introduce us to the Polynesian Wayfinders who navigate miles and miles of ocean using no technology.

"The skills and trust that they have, it's all about balance and staying tuned to the moment. Taking action, responding, acting and flexibility: being able to adapt to all those changing conditions. And the thing that I like the most about the Wayfinder metaphor is that they can't get blown off course, because there is no course.”

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