Welcome. Things are finally letting up a bit around here so hopefully I’ll have some more time to write these.
Business school is full of buzz words, three letter acronyms (for which there is a three letter acronym – TLA), and general lingo. Buckets. Bucketed. Impactful. ERP. TMI. FPS. Hats. Hard Stop. Bull-whip. So many more that I can’t think of because they are just part of my vocabulary now. But tonight, we’re talking about ambiguity.
From Wikipedia, my encyclopedia of choice: “Ambiguity is a term used in writing and math, and under conditions where information can be understood or interpreted in more than one way and is distinct from vagueness, which is a statement about the lack of precision contained or available in the information. Context may play a role in resolving ambiguity. For example the same piece of information may be ambiguous in one context and unambiguous in another.
But nothing about business…or life…but it’s not difficult to translate. My interpretation is that there is no clear answer and more than likely multiple somewhat correct answers. Also, I think some level of imperfect information as well. Let’s look at some examples:
Where am I going to go to College. I twice faced this predicament. Recently, I’ve chatted with several people about either their children choosing where to go to college, themselves choosing where to go, or even what major they should choose during their collegiate career. Basically, you only get to pick once (well, kind of) so you should do your research, but there are multiple correct answers. Enter ambiguity.
What should I eat tonight. Well, I had Chipotle last night. And salad for lunch today. So maybe I should have chicken and vegetables tonight. Or maybe Chinese food. See, multiple correct answers based on some research/information/data.
Should I produce chips, PC’s, or both. In the US, Europe, or Brazil. Captive sales or agent sales. Float some bonds or get capital loans. This is Intopia, a business simulation that sucks you in something akin to Second Life. In the real world, I am a business student. In Intopia, I am the “Assistant to the President” of Rumpelstiltskin Enterprises, affectionately dubbed “Rumpel.” We (a team of four MBA students) sometimes are referred to as the “Rumples.” We have some data/information/research to base our decisions on. But we really don’t know what we are doing. There are many, many “correct” answers. Our job is just to pick one, one that seems to be a good one. Make a decision and run with it.
Enter tough-minded(ness). From The Free Dictionary: Facing facts and difficulties with strength and determination; realistic and resolute.
I was first presented with this word as a quality in a person during my time at Purdue. I can’t remember what class it was in, but we learned about X number of personal/professional qualities. As I remember it, it’s basically being able to make decisions with imperfect information.
From my perspective, tough-mindedness is the reaction/quality business school teaches when faced with ambiguity. It’s not spelled out on the white board or in some flashy PowerPoint deck. But it’s the quality that we all seem to be building through accumulated experiences. Lesson learned/learning.