Whenever you are involved in innovative work, you will be confronted with ambiguity. It is what most people call the "Fuzzy Front End" of innovation. It is a stage when things are not well defined, there are not a lot of answers, and the future seems blurry. Ambiguity tolerance means you have some level of tolerance for this phase. Innovative type people usually have a high degree of ambiguity tolerance because there is no way you will make it past the initial phases of innovation without embracing ambiguity. In fact, the most creative and innovative people have a high ambiguity tolerance. They are able to starve their need to impose structure and delay closure.
Wilkinson has written a really cool book on this called Ambiguity Advantage. In the book he says there are 4 modes of Leadership:
- Mode One - Technical Leadership. These leaders usually deal with ambiguity by denial or creating their own certainty. They are also more dictatorial and are very risk averse by nature.
- Mode Two - Cooperative Leadership. The aim of mode two leaders is to disambiguate uncertainty and to build teams around them to mitigate risk.
- Mode Three - Collaborative Leadership. Mode three leaders have a tendency towards consensual methods of leadership. They prefer to work towards aligning team members values and getting agreement. Their approach to ambiguity is for the group to examine it.
- Mode Four - Generative Leadership. These leaders use ambiguity to find opportunity. They tend to be inveterate learners and innovators.