To remain relevant, embrace ambiguity


Change is occurring at a pace unprecedented in history.

For example, the Roman Empire essentially used the same military strategy to create its empire over 700 years with little modification, a successful model that had longevity. By contrast, military technology today is changing at lightning speed. It’s not that long ago that ‘drone warfare’ entered our vocabulary and enabled a ‘pilot’ to sit in an office in Arizona and fly missions anywhere in the world. The next step will be ‘drone warships,’ removing the need to have crewed ships.

Change is no longer a matter of choice. If you fail to change you will be left behind.

Amazon is currently developing the capacity to deliver parcels by drone. The recipient will spread out a receiving mat in the backyard and the drone will land and leave the parcel. Is the courier industry contemplating this development with their fleets of vans? It is easy for an industry to miss the wave: who goes to a video store any more? Movies are delivered to you or streamed over the internet.

No industry or person is immune to ‘change’. In fact, ‘change’ is probably a wrong descriptor, as it sends the message this is a momentous exercise that, once completed, will provide breathing space till the next ‘change’.

Through our work with leaders across all industries, we identified that not everyone was keeping up with change. We wanted to find out why.

What we perceived to be the point of difference for responding to relentless workplace change was an ‘individual’s comfort’ with ambiguity and uncertainty. In other words, how they responded to new problems and issues and the mechanisms they put in place to deal with situations.

We wanted to find a way to assess an individual’s ‘tolerance of ambiguity’, test our hypothesis and use our experience to support people to develop their ‘tolerance of ambiguity’. We began our own research and found an old (1962) ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ survey by Budner – but nothing current and work-related. There was an obvious gap in the market to be filled.

Our experience in partnering with people in change also identified some habits we felt would increase an individual’s tolerance to ambiguity.

As we started talking about this topic and sharing our own insights, it became time to engage the experts to assist with in-depth research and develop a valid and reliable tolerance of ambiguity assessment tool.

We needed to partner with the experts and that is where QUT Business School came to the fore. This research partnership furthered our work and tested and challenged our hypothesis and assumptions. Most importantly, the research resulted in a globally validated tolerance of ambiguity tool.

Associate Professor Peter O’Connor and Kerryn Fewster are speaking on this research partnership on Wednesday 6 September at the QUT Alumni forum. Find out more and register.


Kerryn Fewster

Director of change management consultancy Change2020. Kerryn has spent almost 20 years working with leading Australian and global businesses in the area of transformation, leadership development, coaching and embedding culture change programs enabling businesses to flourish and perform.

Change2020 partnered with QUT Business School to conduct this research.

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