The Soul of a Project #28: The Wisdom of Doubt!

by Gary Monti on November 1, 2012

On Apollo 1 what would have happened if someone had asked, “What happens when you combine a spark with elevated oxygen levels in an iron rich environment?” Those 3 astronauts might have gotten to live out their lives telling their grandchildren stories about the early days of space flight. Avoiding Monday-morning-quarterbacking, the question is worth asking in terms of determining when confidence bleeds over into over-confidence. In resilience engineering that bleeding over is referred to as drift.

What stems drift is doubt. A muscular approach to projects can easily push out doubt, which is unfortunate. Doubt has a real value. It encourages us to seek others opinions and get as many eyeballs as possible on a problem or solution. Evolutionarily it has a real benefit. Darwin talks about the survival of the fittest. It is commonly thought of as the strongest. That isn’t what he meant. Survival of the fittest refers to having the best fit, i.e., finding the sweet spot among all the possibilities when swimming in a sea of possibilities.

Doubt is connected to another important evolutionary development – a conscience. In The Sociopath Next Door Martha Stout, PhD, explores the social consequences when a conscience is lacking and the associated lack of doubt. It is a very interesting read.

You might be wondering where this is going. After all, we need to develop a sense of confidence so we can get things done. But if my confidence is high does it mean I’m a sociopath? What to do?

The answer lies in wisdom.  Wisdom is choosing what to do (or to be still) when there isn’t a clear-cut path that would bring a tear to Euclid’s eye. And this is where we get back to the group. Use doubt to provoke, to dig deeper, to make a game of the situation. A little cage rattling will go a long way towards waking people up and getting them energized, which leads to better solutions and gives everyone on the team a chance to feel significant. At that point work is no longer a job, it’s a quest. It’s a chance to get lost in the problem and feel alive!

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