Clarity vs. Certainty: why as a person and entrepreneur I don’t want to be sure of anything

Clarity vs. Certainty: why as a person and entrepreneur I don’t want to be sure of anything

Krystel Leal

Changing your mind is one of the best things that can happen to people: we only change our minds when we get to know more and better, and knowing more is synonymous with knowledge.

The book Full-Spectrum Thinking: How to Escape Boxes in a Post-Categorical Future by Bob Johansen, a researcher at the Institute For The Future, has been one of my best reads. I say “has been” because I am reading the book for the second time. It is one of those books that, as Naval Ravikant says so well, could be one of the hundred that I would have to keep for the rest of my life (and reread them over and over again).

"I would rather read the best 100 books over and over again until I absorbed them, rather than read all the books." – Naval Ravikant

First of all, let me share with you something that I have been thinking about a lot in recent months. It’s great that we have more and more blogs about books, more and more Instagrammers to show what they read, and people on LinkedIn sharing their stacks of books.

But what happens, and sometimes I am also part of the problem, is that too many people read the same books at the same time. This simultaneous reading leads to similar ideas. Even if no one reads the same book in the same way or with the same references, the reflections are not so different.

My advice (and I am trying to do it myself) is to read what we need for ourselves in our moment, on our path, and not to read things just because someone tells us to. If it comes to best-selling books, that's fine, but let's get clarity in that decision, and it's about clarity that I want to reflect with you in this article.

Full-Spectrum Thinking is a book that I got to know after following and studying Futures Thinking at the Institute For The Future (IFTF) in Palo Alto, California. Like much I read, reflected and discovered at the IFTF, this reading was (and is) a breakthrough in my personal and professional growth. This book gave consistency to several reflections that I had been engaged in for some months, and that I had not yet managed to materialize in words.

I don’t want to be sure of anything

For several months I had been struggling to express my dilemma with my seeming certainties. I started to read about and study Futures Thinking to help me with my problem.

I have been working as a freelancer since 2015. I also have a project in Portugal, where I talk about remote work. But I was feeling that I did not want to continue saying, “I am sure remote work is the future of work.” I felt that I was not sure about this affirmation, but that I was somehow sure of something. I did not realize that what I have about remote work and its role in the future work model is clarity.

What I want to have, more than ever, and in as many areas of my life as possible, is clarity: clarity on where I want to go; clarity on what/how/where I am investing my time and energy; clarity in my opinions and in the arguments that support them. But at the same time, I always need to try to have the interest to destroy the certainty that I have of them. Yes, I want to stop being sure.

Strange position? I know. It is an unusual exercise in which, whenever I find myself certain of something, I stop myself and try to search for more information to increase my clarity on the subject — so I can stop being sure.

“Clarity filters will help us distinguish between clarity and certainty. Here are some key differences: Clarity is expressed in stories (Martin Luther King was a wonderful storyteller). Certainty is expressed in rules. Clarity includes curiosity about other points of view (Dr. King was curious about all aspects of social justice). Certainty has little curiosity. Clarity includes knowing what you don’t know (Dr. King was both strong and humble). Certainty does not know what it doesn’t know — and doesn’t care to learn.” — , Full-Spectrum Thinking

Instead of thinking that “I am sure that remote work is the future of work,” today I force myself to think more from a perspective of “I am clear to say that remote work is going to be a crucial piece of the future of work.” And by saying that, I have to empower myself with data and information that will allow me to build solid arguments to support my clarity — even if that learning takes me to different positions to the ones I have today. All clarity stands must be aligned with the best we know and have today.

This does not demonstrate a lack of confidence in my opinions — it is quite the contrary. I firmly defend my views on topics where I have solid information and data. But I am (and must be) curious and interested enough to accept that my opinion can change with the right information and data. After all, new data and perspectives mean that my clarity can increase and take me to another type of position.

Changing your mind is one of the best things that can happen to human beings: we only change our minds when we come to know more and better, and knowing more is synonymous with knowledge.

Certainty a difficult evolution

To be sure of something means being locked in a box. To be sure is, as Bob Johansen says, not knowing what you do not know — and not caring to learn.

With challenging my certainties and my search for clarity, I have been exposed to various feelings that make me uncomfortable: racist attitudes, sexist beliefs, and selfish opinions. But it’s the time to be uncomfortable; this is the only way we can manage and work on the problems. Many of them are associated with certainties that I had on various topics.

Starting a process of deconstructing my certainties begins with this thought: “If I am sure of this, the time has come to look for arguments, data, and information that will convince me that I am wrong.” This will start a process of personal exploration that, for me, I hope, will never end.

Not being sure is, once again, knowledge. The only way to stop being sure is to gain clarity, and clarity is only achieved first by wanting, and then with a lot of reading, a lot of reflection, and a lot of analysis. It is a process in which we have to stop categorizing what we think is right and wrong, and start processing it as clear or unclear.

Starting to implement this kind of analysis is a way to have full-spectrum thinking. After all, you are clear that there is much more to know about a specific topic; there is not only one truth or certainty.

Categorical thinking is almost innate to human beings. Trying to stop doing this does not mean stopping looking for patterns. Identifying patterns is vital to reach clarity. However, the challenging exercise is, after identifying patterns, not to immediately close them in certainty boxes. Did we find patterns? Let’s look for more!

The clearer we are on a topic, the less certain we need to be. Clarity allows you to make decisions and opens up a more extensive range of opportunities. Certainty leads to limiting actions because we know what it is, and we stay in place; that is it — knowing with certainty conditioning. But if we know what is happening at this moment and know that there is a spectrum of possibilities, we can decide where to go next — because we have a range of next steps in front of us to choose.

Bob Johansen’s book guides us to this practice and makes us reflect on the best way to implement it in our work and personal life. It is not a book that I want to encourage you to read if you do not feel that you need to change your life and way of thinking radically.

You may be at a time when you need to consolidate other aspects of your life, such as business, productivity, digital marketing, or meditation. And it is all right. With this article, I want to make you reflect on what you do with certainty and clarity. The choice will be between comfort and discomfort. Being sure is comfortable because it is something we know, categorize and close in a box. Seeking clarity is to allow opinions to change and be in a spectrum of possibilities that can cause us discomfort. After all, wanting clarity is not being right or wrong, and that is not the most comfortable position in the world.

What will you choose?