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Leaping into the Unknown: Why We Need Tolerance for Ambiguity

Why is it essential for us all to embrace opportunities to navigate the unknown and unfamiliar? Read on as Jayme Cellitioci, creativity and innovation strategist at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), shares her inspiring thoughts on how persisting in the midst of ambiguous situations can make us stronger.

Building a Tolerance for Ambiguity

In the field of creativity — a robust field filled with research and rigor that extends far beyond colorful collages and artistic renderings — there are iconic figures who have helped lay the foundation on which we build today. One of these figures is master teacher E. Paul Torrance.

In addition to the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), one of the most revered measures of creativity, Torrance created many models for teaching and learning. As part of a graduate class in my master’s degree program focusing on creativity and change leadership, we read the list of 18 creative thinking skills Torrance and his colleague Tammy Safter had outlined and promoted.

I remember thinking how helpful it was to see these intuitive notions I had about creativity written in such a straightforward list. One of the skills that stood out to me most was “Tolerance for Ambiguity,” a skill that is now more relevant than ever as we continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life has demanded our educators, parents and children tolerate (and even thrive in) ambiguity, from not knowing the space and platform from which they were going to be teaching and/or learning (e.g., in-person or virtually), to what the social and behavioral norms would be at various points and in shifting community scenarios throughout the pandemic.

With as much empathy behind this statement as I can muster (as a fellow working mom who is desperate to attend in-person conferences, and throw birthday parties and potlucks), I want to tell you that the ability to navigate and tolerate ambiguity is a skill that will have a lasting benefit.


Seeing Creativity as a Silver Lining

Tolerance for ambiguity is a key skill that we see demonstrated by and embodied within Our Nation’s Greatest Innovators — the NIHF Inductees. It is the very waters in which so many of them have identified the novel and useful solutions that shape our lives.

I sincerely believe that the development of this creative thinking skill is one of the most prescient silver linings we will gain from the pandemic. Creativity is all about making a leap into the unknown. We have fully submerged into this space, trading in our snorkels for deep-diving rebreather technology. We are no longer simply treading water, we are discovering new species at unfathomed depths. And in the process, we are flexing a muscle and building a critical skill whose merit is often overlooked.

For those of you bravely tolerating ambiguity at all-new levels, while teaching others to embrace this little beast swimming up from the midnight zone, may you know that your capacity will be forever expanded and your creative problem-solving skills deeply enhanced.


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