What is the difference between ambiguity and uncertainty?
An ambiguity put simply, is just anything that can have more than 2 means and it is not clear which meaning is meant.
We find ambiguity and uncertainty is a contributory factor in many areas of our life… for example when we think we are doing one speed and our instruments tell us something different… which is correct? Do you follow you instinct or the instruments? What if you suspect the instruments might not be working correctly?
The point here is ambiguity leads to uncertainty. Uncertainty and confusion are similar things in that they are the reactions we have to things like ambiguity.
- Ambiguity = anything that can be interpreted in more than one way
- Uncertainty = the reaction - doubt, confusion etc.
Other things can create uncertainty like a complete lack of data or incomplete data or a dilemma like should I do this or that where some choices aren’t clear for example.
There a couple of problems with uncertainty:
The first is our emotional reaction and the knock on effect that this has with our cognitions or our ability to think, solve problems and act.
And secondly and this might sound strange, you have to know you are uncertain to be able to do anything about it. Quite often what we find is that people don’t realise that there is an ambiguity or uncertainty…
and they blithely carry on thinking things are ok and certain… until things go badly wrong. When we examine things like air accidents we find a large percentage of cases of pilot error actually occur because pilots didn’t see the ambiguities or uncertainties as well as not knowing how to deal with those uncertainties.
We see the same patterns emerging where businesses or projects fail because with the uncertainty created a form or paralysis or they just didn’t notice the ambiguities and uncertainties in time and they didn't know how to respond to them.
This lack of recognition of the ambiguities and uncertainties happened in the famous cases of kodak who where brought down by the uncertainty created for their film business by a technology they actually invented - the digital camera, similarly Polaroid how failed to notice the signs of change which were the signs of uncertainty in their market, and of course the mass failure of banks and governments to fail to notice the ambiguities of the financial systems and markets pre 2008. Indeed many of these ambiguities and uncertainties still exist today.
The masters of ambiguity programme shows you exactly how to deal with all of this and more.