Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ambiguity towards Tolerance

The corporate world relies heavily on leaders to make profits. Leaders are expected to possess essential skills including the ability to look at the big picture and make confident decisions based on limited and oftentimes vague information (this particular skill also demands the capability to exude confidence as well as generate it in the team about the decision) . That is commonly referred to as 'tolerance to ambiguity' and has gone beyond just leaders as a required skill nowadays. I would like to discuss here the ambiguity in my mind towards tolerance.

Let's tackle ambiguity first. Everyone is expected to have tolerance to ambiguity, which brings up the question of how it comes about. The dictionary definition of ambiguity is 'doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention'. From a corporate perspective, that translates into doubtfulness regarding the current situation and future direction. It is quite easy to attribute ambiguity to external factors typically beyond our control, but there's uneasiness in acknowledging that it originates internally too, from the sheer fact that human beings by nature are not willing to step outside their familiar worlds, not always willing to be on the same page (mostly unintentionally) and not willing to ascend (descend has a negative connotation - ascend implies the right direction) to the level of detail that would allow the picture to be constructed more accurately. Things would not be crystal clear, but they would definitely be less ambiguous if internal factors are recognized and addressed. Hopefully this clears up some ambiguity regarding the concept of ambiguity.

Before we move on to tolerance, I would like to take a moment to talk about a relevant topic - solutions. The term solution implies a problem but it is applied universally, regardless of whether a problem exists or not. It goes to say that human beings view everything as a problem, whether they would acknowledge it or not. Interestingly, many solutions are a result of problems resulting from previously applied solutions. I don't think there is a solution to this recursive problem, so let's move on.

Tolerance. There are some problems with this word - apart from implying passivity which is the last thing to expect from action-oriented leaders, it casts a shadow of another word - tolerate. Not sure if this is an expected or unexpected connotation, but whoever coined these words decided to move very quickly on to the next word starting with 't'. Tolerate implies a blended sense of dislike, inaction, and superiority - maybe it's only myself who sees it that way, but that's sufficient for this post. Similar to the words restive, enervated, and fundamentalist which appear to imply something different from or opposite to what they actually mean (one-word oxymorons in my dictionary), tolerance does not come across  as the most tolerant word in the context. And it goes beyond the corporate world - I read a news article recently which talked about the inefficacy of this word in the cultural/religious context.

Allow me to illustrate the connotation of tolerance and the one-word oxymorons noted via an unnecessary visual which sheds some light on what lurks in the shadows:

Hope this explains the ambiguity in my mind towards tolerance. Maybe the phrase should be replaced with 'intention to eliminate or reduce ambiguity' - doesn't roll off the tongue that well, but definitely more accurate.

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