January 30, 2009
The Value of Confusion


Are you confused about how to proceed with your hottest new idea? Puzzled? Baffled? Disoriented?

If so, take heart! Confusion is not always bad. In fact, it is often a necessary part of the creative process.

The weirdness enters when you start to judge yourself for being confused. Then, instead of benefiting from this normal stage of "not knowing" you end up in endless rounds of self-talk, procrastination, and worry -- none of which will serve you on your way to creating something wonderful.

What IS confusion, really?

Technically speaking, it's a state of mind in which the elements you are dealing with appear to be indiscriminately mixed, out of whack, or unable to be interpreted to your satisfaction.

Everyone from Einstein to Mickey Mouse has had this experience. It comes with the territory of trying to innovate.

Most of us, unfortunately, have a hard time acknowledging it.

"Not knowing" has become a euphemism for "ignorance" or "being unprofessional." And so begins our curious routine of appearing to know and giving bogus answers -- to ourselves and others -- in a pitiful attempt to mask our confusion and maintain a sense of control, brilliance, and selfhood.

Our fundamental discomfort with not knowing -- much in the same way that a person who breaks up with their sweetheart often rushes too quickly into the next relationship -- prevents us from mining the value of this potentially fertile time of dislocation.

Picasso puts it well: "The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction."

Translation? Great breakthroughs emerge after times of dissolution, chaos, and confusion. Jump too quickly into the next thing and you may be short-circuiting a critical stage of the (yes, often uncomfortable) creative process.

Wasn't the universe itself created out of chaos?

llya Prigogine, a leading brain researcher, describes this phenomenon as the "Theory of Dissipative Structures". Simply put, it means that when things fall apart, they eventually reorganize themselves on a higher level (if they don't first become extinct).

And while this transition stage certainly looks and feels like confusion, what's really happening is that the old structures are giving way to the new.

Lao Tzu, one of China's most revered sages, knew all about this phenomenon:

I am a fool, oh yes, I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright.
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.

Somehow, he knew that "things" needed to be a little mixed up for there to be sufficient space for something new to enter his life. He knew that sometimes it was wisest just to let life unfold -- and that any knee-jerk attempt to clear up what he perceived to be confusion would only leave him with his old habits, patterns, and routines.

There is no need to fight confusion. Let it be.

It's a stage we must pass through on the road to creation. Fighting confusion only makes it worse -- like trying to clean a dirty pond by poking at it with a stick.

And, besides, even while our conscious mind is telling us we're confused, our subconscious mind is processing a mile a minute to come up with some amazing solutions. In the shower. While we're exercising. Driving home from work. Even in our dreams.

Look at it this way...

First, we REFUSE (to have our status quo threatened). Then, we get CONFUSED (trying to sort out all the new input). Next, we try to DIFFUSE the process (by regressing or denying.) Eventually, we get INFUSED (inundated by new insights). And, finally, we get FUSED (connecting with previously unrelated elements to form a new and unified whole).

Your next step? Allow confusion to be what it is -- the catalyst for new and more elegant solutions in your life. And if you really can't stand the confusion, know there are simple things you can do to go beyond it:

1. Take a break from the problem at hand
2. Get clear about what's confusing you
3. Talk about your confusion with trusted friends or co-workers
4. Seek out missing information
5. Redefine your problem or challenge
6. Pay attention to your dreams and other clues bubbling up from your subconscious
7. Ask for input/feedback from others
8. Let go
9. Realize it took 10 years for the post-it (an accident in the lab) to go from idea to commercial product
10. Find the humor in it

Idea Champions


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 30, 2009 01:44 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

Who Are We?

Idea Champions is a consulting and training company dedicated to awakening and nurturing the spirit of innovation. We help individuals, teams and entire organizations tap into their innate ability to create, develop and implement ideas that make a difference.

Click here for the simplest, most direct way, to learn more about Idea Champions' semi-fearless leader, Mitch Ditkoff. Info on his keynotes, workshops, conferences, and more.
Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
Top 5 Speaker
Mitch Ditkoff, the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, has recently been voted a top 5 speaker in the field of innovation and creativity by Speakers Platform, a leading speaker's bureau.
Authorized Reseller Logo – GoLeanSixSigma.com
Workshops & Trainings
Highly engaging learning experiences that increase each participant's ability to become a creative force for positive change
Brainstorm Facilitation
High impact certification training that teaches committed change agents how to lead groundbreaking ideation sessions
Cultivating Innovation
Your "best and brightest" are the future leaders of your company, but unless they know how to foster a culture of innovation, their impact will be limited. A one-day workshop with us is all they need to begin this journey.
Our Blog Cabin
Our Heart of Innovation blog is a daily destination for movers and shakers everywhere — gleefully produced by our President, Mitch Ditkoff, voted "best innovation blogger in the world" two years running.
Team Innovation
Innovation is a team sport. Brilliant ideas go nowhere unless your people are aligned, collaborative, and team-oriented. That doesn't happen automatically, however. It takes intention, clarity, selflessness, and a new way of operating.
Awake at the Wheel, Book about big ideas If you're looking for a powerful way to jump start innovation and get your creative juices flowing, Awake at the Wheel is for you. Written by Mitch Ditkoff, Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions.
Face the Music Blues Band The world's first interactive business blues band. A great way to help your workforce go beyond complaint.

"In tune with corporate America." — CNN