The Paradox of Uncertainty

A lesson from the infamous $1000 Project

No one likes uncertainty. We want to control and predict every aspect of our lives. Everyday we take actions to reduce the risk of uncertainty. Not sure what to do? Just ask Google. Not sure if you want to buy that thing? Just read all the product reviews on Amazon. As humans, we want to create conventions that provide us the feeling of security.

But the idea of security elusive. Because once we have it, we’ve made ourselves less open to other options. Rather than try the new sandwich at your Deli, you opt to go with “the usual.” Every time we do this, we limit the number of possibilities, the number of chances we are willing to take. In many ways, it stifles creativity and growth.

I didn’t realize that I was so stuck in my own conventions until I started the infamous $1000 project for Entrepreneurial Design — a game-show like course run by Gary Chou and Christina Xu at SVA’s Interaction Design program. Students are required to launch a Kickstarter campaign and at least raise $1000 to fund it.

It seems simple but it was actually more difficult than I thought. Raising a $1000 dollars isn’t the point. This project is more about convincing about 100 strangers to back you on your ideas. Ideas that you never feel are ready to be shared. Ideas that you believe in but also doubt.

In this class, Gary and Christina make us comfortable with uncertainty by making us complete seemingly ridiculous assignments — like getting someone on Twitter to follow you back or writing cold emails.

Like a mad scientist, there is a method to this madness. Trust in the uncertainty and be comfortable with not knowing. Trust in the process. Put your work out there even if it’s not perfect. Talk to strangers. Don’t pretend to know what you’re doing because you really don’t. This sounds counter-intuitive but without learning to do this, you will never grow.

The paradox of uncertainty is that while we avoid it, it is actually the very thing we need. When you feel doubt, don’t run away. That’s normal. It’s okay to be afraid of failing, but what’s even worse is failing to try.

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