Answers in the Data? LO6553

Johanna Rothman (
Tue, 9 Apr 1996 23:03:59 -0400

Replying to LO6496 --

At 10:41 PM 4/7/96, Rol Fessenden wrote:

>This implies to me that it -- comfort with ambiguity -- is at least in
>part a culturally and/or educationally developed trait, and not a
>developmental phase that is common to all humans. Joanna, are you there?
>Does this make sense? How should we change education to increase comfort
>with ambiguity?

Rol, you were thinking of someone else, but I've been working with
ambiguity as part of management for so long, I'll take a shot at this

I've been in the commercial software product development world for almost
20 years. The successful technical staff and management have been those
people who understood that the product ideas had to get unraveled during
development and the product put together in pieces. These folks all had
different levels of comfort with ambiguity, but could deal with it.

The most difficult case I had was a manager who reported to me who could
not make a decision without all the data. How can you put together a
performance improvement plan that says "get comfortable with ambiguity
'cause that's all you got" ?? I tried, but the individual was not
successful in a management role.

Some of my previous management tried to make this comfort with ambiguity
thing a male-female thing, thinking that since the women they knew could
do this better, it must be a female trait. I doubt that gender has
anything to do with this, I think it is much more of a mental model of the
world. (watch out, I'm on thin ice here. undeveloped thoughts

People who are comfortable with fast evolution, this ability to be
comfortable with ambiguity while doing the work anyway, like the good
software product people I've known, seem to be able to get a picture in
their minds, and put new pieces in as the data comes in. (As a parent, I
think kids do this a lot. Why don't adults do this more?) This skill is
not generally considered useful until one is in a decision-making

How do we make this seen as a useful skill? Is there a way to teach it,
aside from some of the problem-solving we do with our kids, in and out of
school? Is there a way to teach it in a college environment? Would
teachers appreciate this skill?

We may need to change education, but first we need to change people to
increase comfort with ambiguity (including teachers).



Rothman Consulting Group, Inc. URL: voice:617-641-4046 fax:617-641-2764 Management Consulting for High Technology Product Development

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