Follow Your Doubt

Icon thx BlackSpike Design via nounproject
Icon thx BlackSpike Design via nounproject

We all have our doubts, but they’re usually stuffed away somewhere, ignored, and we’re ashamed that they’re there in the first place. Doubts in our culture are seen as weakness, particularly if you’re a leader. Leaders are looked upon to keep a strong face and produce answers and clarity amidst an ever-changing landscape.

But is stuffing our doubt healthy?

My ear has been tuned to words about doubt of late. Here are a few thoughts I’ve picked up.

Doubt your ideas

Even the strong, confident people we look up to have doubts. In fact, that’s what makes some of our greatest innovators great. Adam Smith in his TED talk about the surprising habits of original thinkers, points to doubt as a key factor for people who are seen as “creative”. Doubting your ideas, he says, is a good way to make them better. But he’s careful to distinguish between two different kinds of doubt:

Now, in my research, I discovered there are two different kinds of doubt. There’s self-doubt and idea doubt. Self-doubt is paralyzing. It leads you to freeze. But idea doubt is energizing. It motivates you to test, to experiment, to refine… Instead of saying, “I’m crap,” you say, “The first few drafts are always crap, and I’m just not there yet.”

Smith goes on to point out that creative thinkers naturally doubt the defaults that the rest of us take for granted, which is how they produce creative ideas.

Doubt brings growth

When faced with opposition or conflicting views, it’s tempting to dig in and fight. Growth and maturity, though, come through listening and trying to see the world from another’s point of view. How will we learn unless we’re willing to test our own assumptions and views, and even change our opinion if necessary?

OnBeing shared a beautiful poem recently that resonated with me in this regard, called The Place Where We Are Right, by Yehuda Amichai. It goes like this:

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Though doubt is looked down upon, and won’t make you popular with the cool kids, we all have them, sometimes they’re worth looking into.

May you doubt your ideas, accept differences as a path to growth, and may your yard grow flowers in the spring.