“Learning to live with ambiguity is learning to live with how life really is, full of complexities and strange surprises.” James Hollis
In a past Musing on the creativity of Leonardo da Vinci, I shared one of his practices was embracing ambiguity. His contemplation of opposites and paradox fueled his love for puns, riddles, puzzles and knots — and inspired Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile.
As one definition of ambiguity (the possibility of interpreting an expression in two or more distinct ways) suggests, there will be times when it should be avoided, such as providing directions or drawing up legal contracts. On those occasions, it's important to be clear and precise. However, there are many instances when ambiguity can be a powerful stimulant for creativity. For instance, consider the figure below. What do you see?
If you look at it one way, it’s a question mark. If you look at it another way, it’s a bird. If you turn it upside-down, it’s a seal juggling on a ball on its nose. By assuming an ambiguous attitude, you generate a variety of ideas and, sometimes, a second or third “right” answer.
In the same way, brands must embrace ambiguity. Today, brands face herculean challenges. They must deliver experiences on a wide variety of social media platforms, as well as through traditional media and personal interaction. They must also engage people across a broad cultural, social and political spectrum. They can’t be locked into a “one-size-fits-all” mentality. And just because a brand embraces ambiguity doesn't mean it’s venturing out into the world uncertainly. Quite the opposite. A strong sense of purpose is what gives brands the freedom to experiment, accept risk and adapt.
So, don't be afraid to experiment. Don’t hesitate to not only “think” outside the box but actually “move” outside the box. You may be surprised by what you discover.
As a final exercise in ambiguity, cross out six letters in the following line of letters so the remaining letters, without altering their sequence, spell a common English word.
Click on the above letters for the answer.