Certainty Eliminates It

“The future is uncertain — but its uncertainty is at the very heart of creativity.” 

~ Ilya Prigogine

To be creative is to have the ability to create, to cause something to exist; it is an art. To be uncertain is to not be sure, to be open to change. Therefore, it seems you need to be uncertain to be creative. Creativity requires change; change requires uncertainty. Uncertainty results in open-mindedness. I have been writing forever about change, creativity, uncertainty and open-mindedness.

James Adams, in his book, The Care and Feeding of Ideas: A Guide to Encouraging Creativity (1986), says creativity and change are two sides of the same coin.

“They are often linked, in that creativity is needed to respond successfully to change and creativity, in turn, results in change. Creativity and change both imply new directions. They are both associated with uncertainty.”

Decision making is, of course, about uncertainty, creativity, open-mindedness — and about change. When deciding what to do, you are deciding about your future. Your future doesn’t exist and it is unpredictable, so it is uncertain; it needs to be created. You have two choices: create it or let someone else create it. 

In 1991 I published my book, Creative Decision Making Using Positive Uncertainty. It was later revised in 2003, with my wife Carol Gelatt as coauthor.Since then, author Sheena Iyengar went one step further in describing creative decision making. “Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers, but at its core, choice remains an art,” The Art of Choosing, 2010. I would add, a “creative art.” 

This is why open-mindedness is an essential skill. An open mind is a beginner’s mind. “A beginner’s mind is a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time,” Zen saying. The beginner’s mind is what Zen practitioners use when describing the notion that learning requires an empty cup. When full of what you already know it is hard to acquire new knowledge. A beginner’s mind is trying to discover its ignorance, not to disguise it. This empty cup, beginner’s mind idea is like being child-like. Children don’t know a lot so they learn a lot. They have a beginner’s mind.

You might try thinking like a child. A child hasn’t yet learned rational, adult thinking. Almost all creative thinking techniques, brainstorming for example, involve the abandonment of rational, logical thinking. 

“An open, beginner’s mind allows us to be receptive to new intelligent thinking processes possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does.”

~ Jon Kabat Zinn

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Own It

“The future is not someplace we are going to, but a place we are creating.”

~John Schaar

“There is no ‘out there,’ independent of what is going on ‘in here’.”

~Fred Allan Wolf

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened,” John M. Richardson. Which kind are you? The future hasn’t happened yet; and it is uncertain. It is waiting for a builder. Are you the kind of person who wants to be part of its construction?

In fact, making the future happen should be the urgent goal today for the public and for our politicians. What republicans and democrats and the people need today is a future sense worldview. A worldview is: “an overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world; a collection of beliefs about life and the universe,”Dictionary. A future sense worldview is a collection of beliefs that are open and inclusive. 

Future Phobia, fear of the future, was one of my four neuroses in my article Future Sense in the FUTURIST, Journal of the World Future Society, 1993. (The other three were: Info-mania, Paradigm Paralysis and Reverse Paranoia.) We need to replace Future Phobia today with Future Sense. The trouble with the future is that it doesn’t exist; except in our minds. It is what we have been creating in our minds; and in our plans, our objectives, our dreams and fears. And in our biases. “The future is inside us, not just in front of us,” California Governor Gavin Newson. The future inside us is what I call Future Sense. And the title of my soon to be published new book. I have often said: “your image of the future may be the most important factor in determining what you future will be.” This image is your Future Sense and makes your Future Sense powerful. 

The future is defined as: “an indefinite time to come; something that will happen.” Although the future is not something that is happening now, it is happening in our heads now. Making sense of what is in our heads now should be our goal. Replacing our overall perspective of a fear of the future with Future Sense makes sense. 

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

~Dr. Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go

“Don’t look back you’re not going that way.”


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A Mental Disability

“A man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.” 

~Murphy’s Law

You and I are like the man with two watches, so we should never be sure, in other words, adopt Positive Uncertainty. Especially today, because with information overload, we probably have many “watches.” This results in information overload. Information overload is also known as information glut. It describes the difficulty in understanding an issue and effectively making decisions when you have too much information about that issue. 

“When you can admit to ignorance, you will realize that if ignorance isn’t exactly bliss, it is an ideal state from which to learn,” Richard Saul Wurman, in Information Anxiety (1989).  Now we not only have too much information, but also too much misinformation, alternative facts, fake truth, and an excess of political lies in what is called a Post-Truth World. “We have transformed information into a form of garbage,” Neil Postman. How much is too much?

The man with two watches, and the rest of us, can solve our unsureness dilemma by paying attention to only one “watch.” That’s what most of us do. That is what is happening in the political information overload explosion today. People, including me, are paying attention to one source of political information. 

One of my paradoxical principles of Positive Uncertainty in my 1991/2003 book, Creative Decision Making Using Positive Uncertainty, was: be aware and wary of what you know. Believing the information you have nowadays indeed is a problem. Part of the reason is that you have so much. My advice: be intentionally aware and wary of what you know.

Decision making is arranging and rearranging information into a choice. There is always more information available that one can process. There is no such thing as “innocent” information and information today is not always “user friendly;” it is often misinformation, incomplete, biased, unreliable, irrelevant, subjective and never independent of values. 

Therefore, collect a few more “watches” and get a diversity of information. Fact check your information with reliable sources. What you know partly determines what you believe and what you believe partly determines what you know, so check your beliefs. The goal of dealing with information glut is to avoid information anxiety. Keep looking; verify your knowledge. Be careful about what you think you know. Acknowledge your ignorance. 

“Some things are impossible to know and it is impossible to know these things.”

~Murphy’s Law 

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Metaphors are concepts we live by, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

To mark today’s inauguration of President Biden, I am sharing below a blog I posted four years ago (9/20/16) about President Obama’s perspective on what it took for his administration to solve the economic crises our country faced when his presidency began. President Biden and the country would benefit from keeping Obama’s ocean liner metaphor in mind as the new administration addresses multiple crises — multiple ocean liners — simultaneously.

• • •

By now you know how much I like metaphor. And I admit I like Obama. These two biases are influencing this blog. But I think the message of this metaphor is important. Remember, “the medium is the message,”Marshall McLuhan.

The following is taken from an article by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, May 23, 2016. Obama described how big democratic societies work: “They are like ocean liners: you turn the wheel slowly, and the big ship pivots. Sometimes your job is just to make stuff work. Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or to try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that, ten years from now, suddenly we’re in a very different place than we were. At the moment, people may feel like we need a fifty-degree turn; we don’t need a two degree turn. And you say, Well, if I turn fifty degrees the whole ship turns over.” 

Gopnik notes that the president wasn’t saying that big ships aren’t worth turning, just that it takes time. Their very bigness is what makes them turn slowly, but their bigness is also what makes them worth turning. He points out that what we have passed through in the eight years of the Obama presidency, is perhaps larger than we know. When an ocean liner changes course, the people on deck are often the last to notice.

This metaphor has helped me understand and appreciate Obama’s political views and practice. Obama explained his political view: “Liberalism is a belief in radical change made through practical measures.” My favorable bias to begin was expanded because of the message of the medium. The message of the ocean liner metaphor influenced both my understanding and appreciation.

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A Place For Wiggle Room

Loop hole: a failure to include something in an agreement or law, which allows someone to do something illegal or to avoid doing something.

Perception refers to the way sensory information is organized, interpreted, and consciously experienced. What we see is always interpreted; the interpretation process  does not include something to avoid wiggle room. Human perception did not include something to avoid misinterpretation. Therefore, misinterpretation is always possible. And likely. We believe and see what we want to believe and see.

I have often written that believing is seeing and seeing is doing. Beliefs become behavior. It is our beliefs that cause the loop holes and wiggle room. If our perception of reality was free of beliefs, perception loop holes, and wiggle room, we would be seeing real reality. “What you see is an interpretation of what you see,” from Kathryn Schulz in her book, Being Wrong (2010). Schulz makes the point that “perception is the interpretationof sensation. Interpretation implies wiggle room, space to deviate from a literal reading, whether of a book or of the world. Every step in the interpretation process presents a potential divergence between our minds and the world — a breach where mistakes can sneak in.”

Wiggle room of course, is the result of subjectivity: “the quality of being based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions; the quality of existing in someone’s mind rather than the external world. Human perception is obviously full of subjectivity. We see what we want to see. “The eye sees what it looks for, and it looks for what is already in the mind,” Scientific School of Police, Paris. This is the mind’s eye loop hole and wiggle room. It is looking for some way to avoid perceiving something that is disagreeable. 

If what we see is an interpretation of what we see, then it is subject to subjectivity and wiggle room. The way we see things is the way we see things. It is nothing more and it is nothing less; but it is everything.

Some of us are better than others in perceiving reality. But most of us, maybe all of us, are often guilty of some perception loop holes and woggle room.

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are,” Anais Nin

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On The Road Never Traveled

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us,” R. W. Emerson

We are told that life is a journey, not a destination. A journey is a process; this blog is about the inner process in our minds on this life journey. The inner process going on in our minds will determine where we are going on our life journey. Although I have written about this topic often, this is a current brief review because of its importance today, starting a new year with such uncertainty — the covid-19 virus and transition to a new president.

“Take the road less traveled,” at one time was unconventional wisdom. Robert Frost made the uncommon advice popular. “Two roads diverged in a wood. And I took the one less traveled. And that has made all the difference.” Today, Frost’s advice should be considered impossible. Today, starting a new year with covid-19, we don’t have a choice between the road less traveled and the road more traveled. No one has been on the road we will experience. The only choice we have is the road never taken. There are no road maps, no advanced scouts showing the way — we are deciding on our own.

My rules of this road never taken will not be rational, authoritative rules by some experienced traveler. They are my rules for my journey, mostly personal, intuitive, and unsupported by empirical research. These rules are more like rules of thumb — somewhere between ambiguous advice and fuzzy formulas; and they may need to be reinvented as I go. Following are three recommendations for traveling this journey.

Focus On The Inner Journey. What lies within us.

Remember, “life is a journey.” My perception of the journey determines my travel decisions. And it will make all the difference. Knowing what is going on in my mind helps me understand my decision. For me, what I am doing on my journey is determined by the way I see the journey.

Plan To Take Detours. “The shortest distance between two points is always under construction,” Murphy’s Law.

I want to avoid rigid rules. I believe all rules, like all beliefs, should be flexible. Rigid road rules prevent side trips or spontaneous excursions. But these detours often lead to new discoveries. Detours can be part of my “planned” life’s journey. In other words, my road rules should always be under construction.

Stop, Look, and Imagine. “There is no ‘out there,’ independent of what is going on ‘in here’,”Fred Allan Wolf.

Stopping is helpful because it curtails the rush and helps me to reflect, meditate, and contemplate. Looking at where I am, where I have been, and where I am going is also helpful. But imagining may be the most help of all. This rule focuses on developing the creative imagination, a combination of pausing, reflecting, and forming mental images. 

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,”Yogi Berra

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Challenging One’s Own Convictions

“A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions. Rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions,” Nietzsche

In order to have the courage to attack one’s convictions, one needs the courage of uninhibited self-criticism. Such courage is hard to come by. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3. Giving advice is popular; taking advice not so popular. “We believe to be true what we want to be true,” Demosthenes. What we believe is what we want to believe, so we don’t want to be told it is not true. This is because if what we believe is not true, we need to change what we do. Believing is seeing and seeing is doing.

Expecting someone to change reminds me of the famous “change question:” how many counselors does it take to change a light bulb? It only takes one, but the light bulb has to want to change.” Herein lies the problem: you can’t really expect someone to change unless they want to change. “Change is good. You go first.” Dilbert/Scot Adams.

Changing what one does usually means changing one’s mind. To change one’s mind requires challenging one’s own convictions. Although we are good at challenging what other people believe and do, we are not so good at challenging what we believe and do. We can easily pay no attention to the plank in our own eye. Such attention would require self-criticism. But we don’t have a “built-in crap detector.”

“Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down,” Ernest Hemingway (1954)

Without such a detector, or someone who knows you and can be honest, criticism of what you believe and say is usually missing. Relying on oneself may not be wise. Notice: uninhibited is defined as “expressing one’s feelings or thoughts unselfconsciously and without restraint.” This seems unlikely. 

Having the courage to “attack one’s convictions” is not built-in to the human process of decision making. To say a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside would be helpful is putting it mildly. Putting it not so mildly is to say that decision makers need something to avoid subjective bias. This has been the theme of my writing for years. 

Positive Uncertainty: having this courage to challenge requires knowing what you know for sure may not be true. “It’s what you know for sure that gets you in trouble,” Mark Twain.  Having a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside one would certainly help human decision making. It should be pointed out that a built-in automatic crap detector would definitely help decision makers. But that would require uninhibited self-criticism, which isn’t built -in. 

In fact, a significant cognitive bias — confirmation bias — is defined as: “looking for information to confirm or validate unwise decisions”

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“The mind is a wild elephant.” The Buddha

“When change works, the people have clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment. In other words, it’s because the Rider, the Elephant, and the path are all aligned in support of the switch.” Chip Heath and Dan Heath in SWITCH (2010).

I believe the elephant wins the prize as the most frequent metaphor. Probably the most popular elephant metaphor is The Six Blend Men and the Elephant. This was written by John Godfrey Saxe in 1872. My favorite is by Jonathan Haidt In his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis. He came up with this image as he marveled at his weakness of will. “I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.”

This metaphoric image of change is revealing. Change happens by us and change happens to us. Sometimes we are no match for the change that happens to us. I have frequently said: ‘We need to be as capable of change as the environment” When the rider and the elephant are in snick, change is possible. But sometimes we can’t be that capable. At times, we are no match for the Elephant. 

Chip Heath and Dan Heath expand on Haidt’s metaphor and suggest that to change behavior: “You need to direct the rider (give yourself crystal-clear directions), motivate the elephant (engage the emotional side, get the elephant on the path and cooperative) and shape the path (arranging the context to make change more likely).” I believe this addition of the path and context is a significant contribution, making the metaphor complete. And making change more likely is also an advantage.

Some readers may be like me and find metaphoric thinking helpful in rethinking some difficult decisions when we realize we need help. Metaphors invite us to think in ways that are not logical, but novel, creative and revealing. To imagine your rational, logical, slow mind,( the rider), and your emotional, irrational, fast mind, (the elephant), and also to remember the path and context as significant — may help you think differently and more creatively. 

Here is another elephant/rider metaphor for thinking about your life’s journey.

“Humankind traveling through life is like the fly on the back of an elephant who thinks it is steering. The elephant doesn’t mind, and it makes the ride more enjoyable.” Unknown

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The Abilities To Adjust And To Recover

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again,” Nelson Mandela

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it,” Margaret Thatcher

Positive Uncertainty has been my mantra for years. Maybe I need to supplement it with some additional decision making principles. I am proposing two possibilities. 

Adaptability is the ability to make suitable to a specific use or situation.     

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune; buoyancy.

I believe adding adaptability and resilience to supplement my Positive Uncertainty will be helpful. In today’s rapidly changing world, adaptability and resilience will be needed skills. When we don’t know what the future will be, we need to be prepared for anything. This means being openminded and inclusive. Adaptability and resilience will be useful when things change — and change again. To be adaptable is to be changeable, resilient, versatile — able to change again, and again. To be resilient is to be capable of dealing with change and dealing with change again; buoyancy.

Once upon a time change was slow and somewhat predictable; no more. “Today’s change is more rapid, more complex, more turbulent, more unpredictable. Today’s change is unlike any encountered before,” George Land. I think you could say that today’s change is different. It requires adaptability and resilience, the abilities to adjust and to recover — and to adjust and recover again. In today’s world, you need to become as capable of change as the environment. 

Being as capable of change as the environment has been my theme song. But people don’t like change. “Change is good; you go first.” Dilbert, Scott Adams. Change IS good; even if it isn’t well liked. It can be considered another word for growth and learning. Most people like learning, even if it is change. 

Adaptability and resilience, the abilities to adjust and to recover, are important skills in a future world that will be full of change, full of the need to “do different.” However, changing one’s mind and doing different is not what most people want to do. “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof,” John Kenneth Galbraith.

Adaptability and resilience, the abilities to adjust and to recover, are key skills to respond to change. Some advice about change from others I admire:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” Barack Obama

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” Winston Churchill

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change,” Albert Einstein

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Is The Direction You’re Headed Forward?  

“Don’t look back you’re not going that way,” Unknown

Probably everyone has been told at least once that “Life is a journey not a destination.” If life is not a destination, does it matter where you are going? A journey is: “The act of traveling from one place to another.”To be on a journey is a process of going from one place to another place. How can a journey be a journey without a destination? By definition, a journey is going to a destination.

The reason “life is a journey not a destination” is considered wisdom is that it puts the focus on the journey, not the destination. Someone once said: “Most people don’t know where they are going until they arrive.” To focus on the destination implies that you might miss the journey. The purpose of the journey is to reach a destination; but enjoying the journey could also become a purpose. A personal purpose. Enjoying your journey might well be different than enjoying my journey. And: “The comparison of joy is the death of joy,” Mark Twain. Your journey and my journey are not the same journey. 

On your life’s journey you need to forget about comparison. Your life’s journey is your life’s journey. It is not someone’s else’s life journey. You are you, not someone else. You are on a path, going to where you want to go; not where someone else wants to go. But remember, it is during the journey where you have some influence. This is where you are making decisions. Decision making is using what you know to get what you want. 

It is important to know what you want. But it is also important to know what you know and what you don’t know. Knowing what you don’t know, of course, is the hard part. How can you possibly know what you don’t know? But it isn’t just what you don’t know that is the problem: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure tat ain’t so,” Mark Twain. Be careful what you know for sure. Remember Positive Uncertainty. 

As long as you are going forward, you are on a journey; going toward a goal; a personal destination. Don’t look back, but look around you, smell the roses. You don’t have blinders on, like the horses, to prevent them from seeing the periphery. Enjoy the process. Living your life is a process.  

“It is better to travel hopefully than it is to arrive,” Japanese proverb

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