Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing

Knowledge is power, or so I’ve been told.  Uncertainty, ambiguity, and indecisiveness are supposedly weaknesses.  But simple decisions have become complex.  They say 90% of the world’s data was created in the last five years.  If I want to buy a new coffee maker, I can spend endless hours researching and gathering information.  I’m overloaded with facts and opinions and bombarded with contradictory information, almost to the point of indecisiveness.

“In an increasingly complex, unpredictable world, what matters most isn’t IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know.  It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand,” says
Jamie Holmes in his new book, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing.  He challenged me to think about ambiguity, uncertainty, and contradictions in a good way, to even embrace them.  It doesn’t really help me on selecting a coffee pot, though.

Indecision is unpleasant, but sometimes we just need to dwell in it longer.  Opinions on both sides of a controversial issue become amplified as people flee the uncertain ground in between, jumping to conclusions in order to reduce ambiguity and find something more predictable.  What we really need is adaptability and calculated re-evaluation.  Contradiction can make us productive, solving mysteries makes us find pleasure in puzzles, and missing information can lead to creativity.  We learn to invent, look for answers in new ways, and we deepen our empathy and understanding. 

Holmes uses numerous psychological studies and historical anecdotes to make his point, such as the FBI’s failures in the branch Davidian disaster in Waco and the success of marketers in the Absolute Vodka advertising.  He explains how our mental machinery works and  the idea behind wise versus hasty decisions.

Again, I still don’t know how to select a new coffee maker, so I guess I’ll just dwell in the uncertainty and ambiguity of not knowing and maybe invent my own.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Crown Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

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