The Leadership Paradox And The Need For Positive Ambiguity

The Leadership Paradox And The Need For Positive Ambiguity
SHARE
THIS



In this guest post, Matt Whale (below), managing director of innovation company How to Impact, asks are you a hedgehog or are you a fox? When it comes to leadership, do you know one BIG thing or lots of things?

What makes a good leader? Certainty? Refusing to fail? A focus on finding solutions?

These are some of the qualities we often expect from leaders, because as humans, we tend to lean towards those who sound certain and can speak with conviction. Unfortunately however, these are the same qualities that can make them less effective. It’s a modern-day leadership paradox.

9k=

Leaders generally fall into one of two architypes, first espoused by the Greek poet, Archilochus in 700BC when he wrote: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” 

A political science professor at University of California Berkeley looked into 284 international affairs experts making 28,000 forecasts, and found that the better forecasters were like the foxes: nimble, not wedded to a single position and ready to pivot in view of new information. By contrast, hedgehogs routinely fared worse than foxes, especially in long-term forecasts – sticking to their opinion, blinded by their extensive expertise.

The thing about the hedgehog however, is that they make it onto TV and mainstream news more so than the foxes because they sound certain and sure of themselves. People crave certainty, particularly when confronted by uncomfortable change and uncertainty, which is when they desperately look for something familiar and safe – even if their leader ultimately provides lesser gains.

So how do leaders act like the more successful fox, while having the star power of their spikey adversaries?

The answer lies in creating an environment of positive ambiguity. One that allows the leader to de-risk exploration of multiple ideas, make mistakes and learn from them, continually adapting to the world around them.

Be Comfortable With Incomplete Data

Hedgehogs judge situations based primarily on what they already know, often simplifying the issues by categorising a problem and implementing ‘best practice’. This leads to them continuing to push tired propositions while new businesses disrupt the market – look at the success of services like Netflix which have taken market share from DVD rental brands.

By contrast, the fox reviews all information without an agenda, thus avoiding confirmation bias – that is, placing higher importance on evidence that supports their preconceptions. Foxes embrace positive ambiguity, making decisions in the absence of hard data. As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, once said:” “Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 per cent, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.”

According to the Knowledge Doubling Curve theory, human knowledge is doubling every 12-13 months, but the internet of things means it will eventually double every 12-14 hours (according to IBM). So even if complete data sets were available, the speed at which you would slow your organization down to get to 100 per cent data completion would see you eliminated from the playing field.

By understanding this, foxes are more focused on making quick decisions while continually re-evaluating the situation and changing tactics in lines with new insights as they become available. 

Move away from quantitative data

Numbers provide a simplified, easily digested and certain view of the world, so it’s no wonder that business leaders rely on them. However, empirical evidence does not always tell the full story.

You need to significantly up-weight qualitative evidence because that will give you the human story about user need. And we don’t mean sitting on the other side of a one-way mirror, watching a focus group. It should be a face to face, real-world exploration of in-situ behaviour over hours of observation involving iterative rounds of experimentation and user testing.

Accept that failure is an option (and one that should be taken)

The fear of failure and the unknown holds us back. This is because we all operate most efficiently in our own comfort zone – where we know the rules and can get things done really well. However, what happens when our environment changes? All of a sudden we’re left behind and our comfort zone becomes decidedly uncomfortable. In order to learn and adapt, we need to go into our stretch zone and the more we do that, the bigger our comfort zone gets.

Foxes know how to fail and fail well. The idea is to not charge ahead with one solution until it either miraculously works, or more likely, fails. Instead, it is to accelerate learnings and pivot directions. It’s like driving in the fog, you wouldn’t put your foot down on the accelerator not knowing what’s ahead. Rather, you’d constantly survey the landscape, correcting your course as you go.

Positive Ambiguity = Duality

In his dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell coined the phrase ‘Double-Think’: the idea that a person could believe two contradictory ideas to be true at the same time. While the application of this in innovation and leadership is a bit different, the underlying premise is the same. By being open-minded, withholding judgement and not discounting any options from the outset, we set ourselves up to better utilise new information. It may be that a new insight actually affirms a hypothesis that seemed to be inferior, which a hedgehog would have quickly disregarded. 

These rules tie back to one sentiment. Great leaders need to remain problem-centric. We need to stop looking for solutions and instead continually question and re-evaluate the problem to emulate the more successful fox, while creating certainty in the process, and not a specific solution, to bring people on board like the hedgehog.

It’s time we step away from our preconceived notions of what makes a great leader and begin to embrace positive ambiguity.

Please login with linkedin to comment

Latest News

Study: TV Ads Outperform Facebook & YouTube For Sales Impact, Regardless Of Screen Type
  • Advertising
  • Media

Study: TV Ads Outperform Facebook & YouTube For Sales Impact, Regardless Of Screen Type

New research from respected marketing science academic professor Karen Nelson-Field has uncovered new insights into how and why video advertising works for brands when viewed on mobile devices. The mobile edition of Nelson-Field’s ongoing Benchmark Series, commissioned by ThinkTV, makes a number of significant findings that are designed to help advertisers and their agencies get […]

Now Screen Repositions Organic Care Brand With New Campaign
  • Advertising
  • Campaigns

Now Screen Repositions Organic Care Brand With New Campaign

Aussie agency Now Screen has teamed up with Organic Care to reposition the brand in what has become one of the most competitive FMCG spaces. The new campaign, ‘Caring Comes Naturally’, celebrates what Organic Care has created since its inception: products that are as good for your body as they are for the environment. In […]

Can You Speak Data?
  • Marketing
  • Opinion

Can You Speak Data?

We're certainly fluent in gibberish, balderdash and claptrap here at B&T, but sadly data isn't part of the lexicon.

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Social Change Maker Profile: Emma Heath
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

Social Change Maker Profile: Emma Heath

B&T has partnered with UnLtd to showcase industry heroes! Well, it's arguably more heroine in the case of Emma Heath.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Ad Fraud: A Problem We Can Solve
  • Advertising
  • Opinion
  • Technology

Ad Fraud: A Problem We Can Solve

Unlike B&T's mystery office farter, this columnist argues ad fraud is a problem that can possibly be solved.

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Why We Pivoted Our ‘Specialist’ Agency Five Times In 15 Years
  • Marketing
  • Opinion

Why We Pivoted Our ‘Specialist’ Agency Five Times In 15 Years

In this opinion piece, Gavin McDonough (pictured above, co-founder and managing partner of Urban, shares through his own experience some valuable advice for independent specialist agencies. In November 2017, my brother Ryan and I celebrated 15 years in business. We started business out of my front room in Melbourne in 2002 – not with any grand […]

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
W+K’s Susan Hoffman Chosen As 39th AWARD Awards Chair Of Judges
  • Advertising

W+K’s Susan Hoffman Chosen As 39th AWARD Awards Chair Of Judges

Susan Hoffman, co-chief creative officer at Wieden+Kennedy (W+K), has been appointed chair of judges for the 39th AWARD Awards. Known to challenge the status quo, Hoffman is behind some of W+K’s most memorable and game-changing ads, including Nike’s ‘Revolution’, Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ and Chrysler’s Super Bowl spots starring Eminem and Clint […]

Experiential Agency Kreate Gets Bought Out By Staffers
  • Marketing

Experiential Agency Kreate Gets Bought Out By Staffers

Leading experiential marketing agency, Kreate Australia is embarking on an exciting growth strategy following its purchase by three of the agency’s existing management team from its UK founder, Steve Evans.

Hurry! B&T 30 Under 30 Entries Closing Friday!
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

Hurry! B&T 30 Under 30 Entries Closing Friday!

This is a clarion call for B&T 30 Under 30 entries, although it's probably more mariachi band than angelic harbinger.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
The Hit Network Chooses Comedian Tanya Hennessy To Host Weekend Breakfast
  • Media

The Hit Network Chooses Comedian Tanya Hennessy To Host Weekend Breakfast

Southern Cross Austereo’s Hit Network has announced that rising radio star and comedian Tanya Hennessy will take over hosting duties for its weekend breakfast slot in 2018. Hennessy will bring content to the airwaves each Saturday and Sunday morning from 7am to 9am with a regular rotation of guest co-hosts. The self-described talker, not walker […]

Straight Up PR Wins Five New Clients
  • Marketing

Straight Up PR Wins Five New Clients

Health, wellbeing and lifestyle PR agency Straight Up PR has welcomed Changing Habits, Unichi Wellness, enerGi, SleepX, and Healthie Hampers to its client portfolio. Straight Up PR’s projects will include bespoke PR services and influencer marketing packages specifically focusing on communications strategy and execution, media and influencer relations, PR launch events, product seeding and gifting, […]

March One Creates ‘Cheese For Change’ Fundraising Campaign For White Ribbon Australia
  • Advertising
  • Campaigns
  • Marketing

March One Creates ‘Cheese For Change’ Fundraising Campaign For White Ribbon Australia

Independent creative agency March One has developed a new fundraising event for White Ribbon Australia that turns a social moment into a social movement. Starting on Thursday 22 March and going until Sunday 25 March, Cheese for Change will ask Aussies to create a cheese platter that matters by gathering friends, family or co-workers together […]

Sixth Annual IGN Select Awards Winners Announced
  • Marketing

Sixth Annual IGN Select Awards Winners Announced

The winners of IGN Australia’s sixth annual Select Awards were revealed during a huge special event at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney on Friday, February 16. Some 225 Media & Game Publishers alongside 320 IGN Community Gamers attended the annual event. 2017 was absolutely crammed with terrific games and several categories were extremely tightly-contested. The top […]

Meet Your Mentors For B&T Bootcamp 2018!
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

Meet Your Mentors For B&T Bootcamp 2018!

When it comes to an industry "who's who", you'll find there won't be too much who-ing with this impressionable lot.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
ANZ Unveils Its 2018 GAYTMs
  • Marketing

ANZ Unveils Its 2018 GAYTMs

Mardi Gras is only weeks away and B&T has already hoisted the mirror ball and donned the hotpants to bring you this.

International Creative Services Redesigns Business Model To Broaden Talent Offering
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

International Creative Services Redesigns Business Model To Broaden Talent Offering

Marketing consultancy International Creative Services has announced a new roster of diverse creative and production talent to provide a fully integrated solution for advertising and branded content. The roster includes a broad range of global and local directors, animators, illustrators, motion designers, visual artists, light projectionists, photographers and cinematographers – many of whom Australia will […]