Embracing your uncertainty

I’ve been watching all the old episodes of TV’s ‘The Apprentice’ – both the US and the UK versions. Watching each episode back-to-back is a different experience than watching it once a week. Apart from driving me mad, the overall impression is about how consistently good the majority of candidates are at certain tasks and how consistently appallingly poor they are at others.

Here’s what they are good at: hard sales, taking action and confidence

Here’s what they are bad at: generating new ideas, presenting, expressing ideas, getting along with and motivating people and seeing the big picture.

It’s interesting that what they’re good at falls into competencies traditionally categorised as ‘left-brain’ controlled tasks and what they are bad at are all right-brain dominated tasks.

Both Donald Trump and Sir Alan Sugar repeatedly make it clear that they’re not looking for another sales person. They’re looking for creativity and leadership. Yet so few people with these skills apply to be on the show (or get chosen to appear on the show).

The reason is perhaps simple, but interestingly not often discussed. Left-brain thinking has a unique characteristic that is not often included in those lists of ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain specialities. Left-brain thinking has confidence and certainty, often even when such confidence is unsupported by evidence. To even apply to be on the TV show you would need to have an unusual level of self-confidence. To actually survive the process and complete the tasks you would need to be able to develop a level of certainty that could drive you through it all. These are strong left-brain attributes.

Right-brain thinking on the other hand, is doubtful and uncertain of it’s own abilities. This is why left-brain thinking always dominates. This is the necessary downside of right-brain possibility thinking, to be able to see the world i flux and as a field of probabilities and uncertainties. It’s this kind of thinking that generates ideas in the first place. It’s this thinking that controls the creative process. It comes at a price, that of self doubt.

This is why so many artists, writers, musicians and performers all at some stage of their careers have periods of massive self-doubt and uncertainty about their abilities. It’s interesting that these are exactly the sort of people that Trump and Sugar need (in fact that ALL businesses need) but these are the sort of people who would never apply to take part is such a process.

What sort of processes do you have to attract and keep these type of people, the creative types who will transform your business?

What sort of processes do you have to nurture your own confidence in your creativity?

Once we become aware that this is how the brain works we can use it to short circuit the duality and use the left-brain certainty and confidence to back up our emotional and artistic sensibilities of our right-brains to empower us instead of undermine ourselves.

Embrace your uncertainty and realise it means you’re onto something. Look at your past successes to help realise you can be more creative, you can use your talents and you can push forward with bigger and better ideas and a more productive life.

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

In my presentations to both school and business audiences, I ask who is an artist and who is a scientist.

The idea of course is that my proposal is that to be creative we have to be both scientist and artist. We need to be able to embrace both logic and chaos, both critical and possibility thinking.

At a school recently I spoke to an audience of 14 year olds. I asked the question,’who here is a scientist’. Note this is after I have explained what a scientist is in simple terms – someone able to question, to make judgements, to experiment to search for the truth. Out of a group of sixty, five hands went up (two of those were teachers). I’d already warmed them up so I knew they were capable and confident in raising their arms to earlier questions.

Does that surprise you? Perhaps not. But the name of that school had as it’s suffix “school of science”. Science was its specialism and yet know one who attended it was a scientist? Why? My theory is that none of the pupils considered themselves ‘a scientist’ or ‘an artist’ or anything else because those are labels applied only to worthy adults. They hadn’t noticed that if you do science, you’re a scientist. If you do art, you’re an artist. Their version of the situation was that they are pupils. Boring, unimportant, useless and irrelevant pupils. Their job, their identity was to be a pupil. You might well say, what’s wrong with that? I feel it’s so limited and constraining that it’s dangerous.

Children adopt this label of nondescript ‘pupil’ as their identity. Then they reach 14 or 15 and are told to choose a route to a job. They used to call it ‘Which Way Now’ with a poster of some inane Radio1 DJ with his headphones on, as if he was some expert in career development. We ask them to choose another label. Do you want to be a doctor or a tv presenter? There probably were a few other rubbish choices. To be a doctor the pathway is fairly clear: you have to be good at everything and then go to medical school. Almost every other profession is less clear. How do I become an archeologist? How do I become a philosopher? Those ‘options’ weren’t on the poster. How do I become head of marketing for a major international corporation? No-one knows. The options are so limited. The reason they are even more limited is that the ‘chooser’ has to make such a leap from generic pupil to sophisticated label. There’s such an obvious chance hat the pupil says ‘forensic science sounds interesting, but I’m not that type of person. I don’t know anything about it.’ Of course they don’t have technical knowledge, but the attitude or ideals probably was there, at one point but was suppressed out by genericness.

I went to a large mechanical engineering exhibition when I was seven with my Dad whose company was exhibiting large machine tools. It was called MACH’78. On arrival you were given a name badge which had your name, occupation and company embossed it just like a credit card. How exciting to get my name on such a object! They asked me for my name and typed it into a computer. I was about to give my occupation and company name when they printed the card. Under my name it read: ‘Schoolboy’. I was incensed that my identity had been reduced to something so trivial, and short-lived (I saw my attendance at school as a temporary condition). Perhaps I hadn’t really got it clear in my head exactly what I would have put had they asked me but that’s not the point.

I was lucky. My imagination wasn’t dulled by such things. Perhaps a large group of children do still flourish in the same way. But from what I’ve seen at schools I’ve visited, we’re doing a big disservice to so many.

What do you want to be when you grow up? What an annoying patronising question.

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