14. The Certain Failure of Certainty

We are creatures of habit. Save for few, we crave certainty and safety. Neither traits that lead to much creativity. So let’s examine what’s behind this and what we can do to make certain that certainty doesn’t hinder us.

 

Show Notes:

  • People Fear Leaving Their Safe Harbor of the Known and Venturing Off into the Unknown. Human Beings Crave Certainty—Even When it Limits Them. 
    1. Safety/security is a foundation of Maslov’s hierarchy of human needs
    2. We aren’t as open or adventurous as we give ourselves credit for
  • The Only Certainty is that Nothing is Certain.
    1. Out of everything I ever share in the course of this podcast, this is the only thing that I’m 100% sure of—I think
    2. Embrace it, like death, uncertainty is just a part of life
  • Be Stupid. – Renzo Rosso, Founder of Diesel Clothing Line
    1. Be a table rasa, a blank slate free of past bias
    2. Let go your ego, you can’t be expected to know everything
    3. Eff know-it-alls, no need to let them
  • I Have Devoted My Life to Uncertainty. Certainty is the Death of Wisdom, Thought, Creativity. — Shekhar Kapur, An Indian International Film Star/Director
    1. There is no “sure thing” in creativity
    2. Leave yourself open to the possibilities, let new buds bloom
  • Paranoia Will Destroy Ya’. — Ray Davies, The Kinks
    1. The need for certainty can make you cling to ideas that otherwise make no sense
    2. Certainty can be handcuffs, stifling your creativity to find new solutions
  • Go Out on a Limb, That’s Where the Fruit Is. — Mark Twain
    1. Most innovation starts with smart risk
    2. Creating new stuff is the thrill of your work (I hope)
  • Don’t Wait Until You Have Enough Facts to Be 100% Sure, Because by Then it is Almost Always Too Late. — General Colin Powell
    1. Before sending soldiers into life-threatening battle, the military must be 70% sure of the mission
    2. If that seems low, it’s not; after 70%, the battlefield changes so much that it’s a whole new situation
  • Technology can help strike a balance between balance and risk
    1. You can test multiple approaches at an affordable cost
    2. Squeezing out uncertainty without losing its magic is not more possible to build a process around

 

Transcripts:

 

Welcome to Episode 14 of Navigating the Fustercluck—a podcast full of snackable insights to help you navigate the love/hate world of creativity.

 

My name is Wegs, like eggs with a W, joining you from Deaf Mule Studios in Dallas, and today we’re here to talk about The Certainty Trap. And the certain failure that comes with the Certainty Trap. Especially when it comes to creativity and innovation. Let’s dive right in…According to inspirational speaker and guru, Robert S. Sharma…

 

People Fear Leaving Their Safe Harbor of the Known and Venturing Off into the Unknown.  Human Beings Crave Certainty—Even When it Limits Them. 

 

According to Maslov and his famous hierarchy, security is one of our most basic needs.  Deep down inside there’s a longing for stability, consistency and permanence.  Perhaps we long for the certainty of security so badly that we’re willing to settle for the mere appearance of it.  Waging war for comforting absolutes, regardless if there is proof to the contrary. And since we used war as a metaphor, let’s move on to famed American Diplomat, Richard Holbrooke…

 

You Have to Test Your Hypothesis Against Other Theories.  Certainty in the Face of Complex Situations is Very Dangerous.

 

Certainty can be dangerous. Then why do we seek it?

 

Certainty certainly feels good.  It feels confident.  It feels strong.  But it will also feel like a ton of bricks landed on your head if you follow it blindly.  No matter how sure of yourself and your position, you may want to pay attention to make sure you’re not following some illusion.

 

The Only Certainty is that Nothing is Certain. – Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher who sounds like a character from the Smurfs. But I love this line, so I’ll say it again…The Only Certainty is that Nothing is Certain.

Of all the statements in this series, this is the only one of which I am 100% absolutely certain– I think.

 

I Really Think That Living is the Process of Going from Complete Certainty to Complete Ignorance.  – Richard Dreyfuss, Actor

 

Deprogram yourself.  Be a blank slate.  Be willing to clear your mind.  Be open to letting new ideas come in.  For in the end, know-it-alls end up knowing next to nothing.  Smugly content thinking to themselves I know what I know. Nothing else matters.

 

Be Stupid.  – Renzo Rosso, Founder of Diesel Clothing Line

 

Be Stupid for Successful Living, says Renzo in his text of the same title. 

In the plays of Shakespeare, the wisest character was often the fool.  The court jester.  The idiot.  The one who the high & mighty looked down upon because of his supposed lack of wisdom.  Yet in reality, the fool was not a fool at all.  In the court of pompous kings, preening queens, and less than noble noblemen, the fool was actually the wise one.  The unpretentious one who paid more attention to the world than himself.

 

It Can Be Scary to Find Out You’ve Been Wrong About Something. But We Can’t be Afraid to Change Our Minds, to Accept that Things are Different, that They’ll Never be the Same, for Better or Worse. We Have to be Willing to Give Up What We Used to Believe. The More We’re Willing to Accept What is and Not What We Thought, We’ll Find Ourselves Exactly Where We Belong. — Grey’s Anatomy

 

If you’re sure you’ve got all the answers, then why would you question yourself? Are you really that sure? Sure enough not to listen to other perspectives? Not to consider other possibilities?

 

I Have Devoted My Life to Uncertainty. Certainty is the Death of Wisdom, Thought, Creativity. — Shekhar Kapur, An Indian International Film Star/Director

Fear it or embrace it. Uncertainty is all around you, and it always will be. Sometimes it’s daunting, sometimes it’s exciting. And by taking it on, you can spur new thinking. Innovation.

 

Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans.

 — Andy Borowitz

While this is a satirical headline from the New Yorker, it’s perhaps too close for comfort. The question is what drives this resistance? Fear? Arrogance? Paranoia?

 

Paranoia Will Destroy Ya’. ~ Ray Davies, The Kinks

 

To protect the security of their certainty people are capable of believing nearly anything, from tall tales to far-flung paranoia-filled conspiracy theories. As Richard Hofstadter said, They insist that our government and all laws align completely with their beliefs, and any departure from that alignment is viewed as the result of a conspiracy against them, or by their leaders “selling out” to nefarious forces. Thus thy constantly feel under attack and endangered.

 

Creativity Requires the Courage to Let Go of Certainties.  — Erich Fromm

 

Certainties lead to rules. Traditions. Customs. Things you’re supposed to follow. Lines you’re not to cross. Just the kind of conformity that the great artists rebel against. For those who make their mark are the ones who open our eyes. Our minds. And sometimes even our hearts.

 

To Believe with Certainty Must Begin with Doubting. 

— Stanislaw Leszcynski, King of Poland

 

He’s got a point there.  Score one for Stan the Man. For whether you are chasing certainty or embrace uncertainty, doubt keeps you honest. Doubt prevents laziness. It keeps you thinking. But one thing doubt will never do is provide you with comfort.

 

The Uncomfortable Truth about Comfort

Comfort has its place and time. We could all probably go a little easier on ourselves. Yet too much comfort can be unproductive. Because there’s no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort. It takes a little tension to bring about change and progress.

 

Go Out on a Limb, That’s Where the Fruit Is.  — Mark Twain

 

Risk. It often comes with fear. Anxiety. Discomfort. And it’s only natural when you go out and explore the unknown. Yet, when you push the boundaries, new and exciting things are more likely to be awaiting you. And while you may not find fruit every time, eventually, it’s the only way to discover something better.

 

There is Not Certainty; there is Only Adventure. 

— Roberto Assagiolli

 

Life has no GPS system. But what fun would it be if you knew exactly where you were going or how you were going to get there? The bumps and detours along the way are often where you find the fun.

 

Don’t Wait Until You Have Enough Facts to Be 100% Sure, Because by Then it is Almost Always Too Late. — General Colin Powell

 

The military is willing to place lives at risk when they are 70% percent sure of a mission’s success. Only 70%! Not because our military leaders don’t value the life of the enlisted, but because the battlefield conditions will have changed by the time they hoped to have absolute certainty.

Comfort has its place and time. We could all probably go a little easier on ourselves. Yet too much comfort can be unproductive. Because there’s no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort. It takes a little tension to bring about change and progress.

 

Let’s Take a Short Breather… (EXHALE.)

 

…We’re here at Deaf Mule Studios to remind everyone that this is Navigating the Fustercluck. And I’m Wegs, your world-weary host hoping that you can avoid many of the mistakes I’ve made during my otherwise adventurous career. Now back to the broadcast with one final thought. We started with this quote from Robert S. Sharma about a ship in safe harbor:

 

People Fear Leaving Their Safe Harbor of the Known and Venturing Off into the Unknown.  Human Beings Crave Certainty—Even When it Limits Them. 

 

So, it’s only fitting that we close on the same metaphor with another quote, this one from John A. Shedd:

 

A Ship in Harbor is Safe—But That is Not What Ships Are Built For. — John A. Shedd

 

Life is for living. And the only person who doesn’t make a mistake is the one who never goes out and lives. Explores. Takes chances. So get out there. Travel. Experiment. Enjoy something new. Put it on the line or be happy being stuck exactly where you are.

 

Well, that about wraps up our 14th episode of Navigating the Fustercluck.

 

Here from Deaf Mule Studios, I’m your host, Wegs, like eggs with a W, thank you for listening in. Until then, please feel free to reach out to us on Twitter at NavigatingF. Remember, we’re all in this together, so thanks for doing your best to buck the cluck. Here’s to you. Here’s to the future.