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What’s the value of confusion?

More than twenty years ago Tom Peters famously wrote “If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention” (Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution 1991.)

This may offer some consolation for those of us who are constantly suffering from confusion as we navigate our very complex world. At least it means we’re paying attention!

Most of us experience confusion as something that creates suffering, and hence as something to eliminate and get rid of.

There can, however, be great benefit in sitting with confusion, and in expanding our capacity to be with confusion. Confusion – if we engage with it properly – can be fertile ground for new insights and learning to emerge. If we push confusion away too fast, then we effectively narrow the space in which new learning can emerge. We reduce the chances of going beyond the limits of our current understanding.

Some questions to ponder:

  • What past experiences can you recall where insights emerged from being willing to sit with the confusion?
  • Where are you resisting or avoiding confusion?
  • What if you allow yourself to be in confusion for longer?

And a fun footnote to this reflection: John Seely Brown, co-author of A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change calls himself “Chief of Confusion” – the one who helps people ask the right questions.

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