Anticipate, Embrace, and Leverage Ambiguity
Authors: Paul Skaggs
Abstract: In his seminal book, Conceptual Blockbusting, James L. Adams states that an emotional block to creativity is the “inability to tolerate ambiguity . . . an overriding desire for order; and having no appetite for chaos.” Tolerance for ambiguity can be defined as the degree to which an individual is comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability, conflicting directions, and multiple demands. Industrial designers work in ambiguous environments. Unfortunately, modern organizations are ordered around the principle of doing things that are efficient, repeatable, and reliable...the fundamental problem with trying to be creative is that it’s none of those things. Higher education is a modern organization that does not encourage students to develop a tolerance for ambiguity but strives to eliminate ambiguity from their educational experience. How one deals with uncertainty and the stress of an ambiguous situation is an important consideration in the life, education, and professional practice of industrial designers. An industrial design student with a low tolerance for ambiguity, who is seeking opportunities in the professional world, is bound to feel stress, anxiety, and frustration. This paper defines tolerance for ambiguity to create awareness of its influence on the success of students who are studying industrial design. Recognizing and developing opportunities for students to experience and practice ambiguous situations is important to student’s success as they move from the educational experience into professional life.
Keywords: tolerance for ambiguity, industrial design, education, uncertainty, categorization, novelty, changing stimuli, change, resistance to closure
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