Understanding Negative Capability: How Being Comfortable With Uncertainty is Your Greatest Asset as an Entrepreneur

The atmosphere of collaboration and teambuilding can feel uncertain and ambiguous at times, causing it to be overwhelming and challenging for many people. Which is part of why the discomfort of collaboration can unfortunately lead many people to avoid it all together. Luckily there’s a solution.

There is a concept called “Negative Capability” that was initially coined by Poet John Keats when describing writers like Shakespeare and artists like Picasso who were able to work within high levels of uncertainty and doubt, and even find a way to delight in it and produce incredible work.

Keats used the term to describe one’s ability to accept not having an immediate answer, and being willing to explore how something could evolve before a clear outcome appears.

This concept not only applies to writers and creatives, it applies to business, our personal struggles, and even our collaborative relationships too. 

So we have put together a quick explanation of how negative capability can welcome curiosity, focus, and resolution in your life as a collaborator.

Regardless of industry, this skill can help you boost your team building and collaborative processes exponentially and all you need to do is look within yourself.


What Negative Capability Looks Like In Action:

Negative Capability is the advanced ability to accept uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and ambiguity. Often in entrepreneurship, we lack a template, or instruction manual to follow step by step for our ideas. Yet we still manage to enjoy the journey and many of us even have a tendency to delight & relish in the sense of feeling lost. That’s in essence, part of the experience of utilizing Negative Capability.

To understand a bit better let’s discuss the difference between Passive & Active Uncertainty and how it will shape our understanding of Negative Capability.

Passive Uncertainty:

  1. “Fight or Flight” impacts decision making
  2. Typically comes from a place of ignorance or general insecurity
  3. Supports ‘Decisive Action’ that at times can irrationally and irritably reach beyond fact and reason.

Active Uncertainty:

  1. Uncertainty that comes from being without a template to follow
  2. The ability to delight and relish in the sense of feeling lost
  3. Supports ‘Reflective Inaction‘. Which just means to resist defaulting back to defensive routines when leading at the limits of one’s knowledge.

Negative Capability deals more in the realm of active uncertainty. Which is the uncertainty that comes from lacking a template to follow, and from paving your own way in life with little to no direction to help guide your way.

This type of uncertainty is common in team situations and collaborative environments because there are many minds with many different ideas and perspectives, causing a lot of ambiguity.

As a creator, ambiguity is just part of the game and that’s exactly why it’s important to learn how to cooperate with one another.

Which we can do that by suspending critical judgement until the end result & staying flexible to many possible outcomes rather than being overly attached to an early vision of success.


How Does Practicing Negative Capability Impact Your Life & Work?

  1. You’ll feel less hurried and chaotic.
  2. Increased curiosity & desire to discover truth.
  3. Enriched decision making capacity.
  4. Provides an alternative solution to managing stress. anxiety, and overwhelm.
  5. Establishes a mental foundation for navigating collaborative disagreements.
  6. Reduces pressure of fallout from missed expectations and misunderstandings.
  7. Makes a more flexible environment for communication, opinions, ideas & feedback.
  8. Infuses mindfulness and reflection into the work life processes.
  9. Encourages exploration, experimentation, innovation, and adaptability.
  10. Ensures that you don’t prematurely jump to conclusions that may appear more certain, but are in fact suboptimal.
  11. Helps your team remain focused and excited even when a project may be far from its end goal.
  12. Gives you the chance to appreciate fully and experience wholly the things that to others, often appear to transcend logic.
  13. Unafraid of being wrong or making mistakes because you see these as opportunities to grow and gain knowledge.
  14. It encourages the mindset that there are things that reason, alone, cannot always adequately explain. 
  15. Pushes you to remain flexible to many possible outcomes rather than being overly attached to an early vision of success.

So How Do You Practice Negative Capability?

  1. Disregard the need to analyze and control every detail when working within a team, or collaborative partnership.
  2. Practice regularly thinking and playing with new ideas and perspectives without judgement.
  3. Always tell a story with your ideas and vision, because in reality you are the only one who can actually see your vision. Which means you’ll need to get really good at storytelling and really believe in your story too.
  4. Push yourself to explore situations where you are less knowledgeable, experienced, or comfortable and let yourself sit in that uncertainty. Use this to challenge yourself to adapt, grow, and gain knowledge about something that you may not be super familiar with.

Negative capability is a universally accessible mental tool that can help us all grow and continue a smooth transition into a more flexible and collaborative work culture. 

2020 absolutely catapulted this transition far ahead. Which is exciting, but now that the chaos is winding down we are able to continue the transition more mindfully and make sure that all of our collaborative efforts prove to be impactful and well thought out.


If you are interested in learning more about this topic or how to overcome your own collaborative roadblocks:

Reach out to us anytime, or read the book linked below that was used as inspiration for this post!

Concept of “Negative Capacity” excerpted from book: HBR Review : Guide to Managing Strategic Initiatives : Lead with confidence, overcome roadblocks, and put strategy into action.

Mastering Collaboration Without Hesitation

When evaluating collaborative environments, we see that if we are able to combine the right people, with the right skills and values, and the time to build trust and communication, teams can accomplish truly incredible things.

Collaboration is a hot topic, and is hugely important to the success of so many initiatives. Yet, there is still plenty of hesitation around collaboration, so we want to address it head on.

Collaboration isn’t a yellow brick road to success. You will most certainly have to navigate some hurdles along the way. Many of us have overcome a fair share of hurdles to embrace collaboration in our own professional or creative lives.

Collaboration comes naturally to some, and naturally more challenging to others. 

We each face different hurdles when it comes to mastering our own collaborative contribution. Yet, there are some difficulties that all individuals and teams regularly face when striving to cohesively work together.


Fear

Fear is pretty relevant in all areas of business but especially when it comes to collaboration. We don’t often express our fears around working together, but our actions often prove the fears to be true. Fear of collaboration is an unsubstantiated fear, but it still has a negative impact on the effectiveness of countless teams.

Many fears around teamwork and collaboration are rooted in fears that our environment won’t value our ideas, visions, and opinions.

Fears are very personal, and take personal initiative to overcome them. When you shift to embrace your fears and contribute confidently within your team, you can open up a whole new world of possibilities.

Common Fears Around Collaboration

  • Fear That Someone Will Take Your Idea
  • Fear That Someone Will Make Something Better Than You
  • Fear That You Will Fail or Be Wrong
  • Fear That You Don’t Know Enough to Contribute
  • Fear that You Will Take the Blame if the Project Fails
  • Fear That Our Knowledge and efforts will be less valued than others.

Mindset

We can begin to welcome and empower collaboration by changing our mindset. 

Our ability to work coequally within a team can be disrupted when we are so set in our own perspective, that we cannot even recognize someone else’s viewpoint in its entirety.

As humans we can easily think that we are the best, and that we know best, when in reality we may not. Which can cause us to hoard our knowledge, ideas, and skills from others.

A common misconception about collaborating is “if I collaborate or discuss their ideas with someone, the other person will steal my ideas and run off into the sunset with them!”.

While this “could” happen, it probably won’t. Because, even if someone does run with your idea, they could never bring it to life in the special way that you can.

This is why we have brand loyalty and are able to enjoy brands like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and more all within the same “ business sphere”. Each coexisting to provide the most value and best products for their customers in their own unique ways.

Yes, they are competitors, but they each have their own audience and loyal brand supporters. This seems to be working out just fine for each of them, so don’t worry too much.

Remember nobody can do you (or your ideas), like you can.

Don’t hide yourself and hoard your knowledge from the world because that really serves no one, not even yourself.


Team Culture

The culture and organizational structure in which your team operates can have great impacts on its collaborative success. When a company’s culture is rooted in fear, competition, or politics then the potential for effective collaboration will be limited. 

Fear based work cultures are most harmful to employees and their quality of work. This type of culture isn’t conducive to the sharing of ideas, and often leaves employees feeling alone and invaluable in many collaborative settings.

It’s been proven that when a team focuses on tackling a “common enemy” or shared challenge outside of the organization, it helps bring the team closer together and motivate them to work harder and more cohesively.

One of the biggest signs of fear based work culture is competition within the team itself.

Competition should only ever exist outside of a team. Competition within collaborative environments tears teams apart and makes accomplishing success more challenging.

Lastly and maybe most importantly, commit to recognizing contributions and celebrating successes within your team. This ensures that everyone feels valued and supported within the team, and those team members will be more likely to maintain or improve their contributions in the future with confidence.


Tips To Master Collaboration Without Hesitation

  1. Make a safe space for the wisdom and feedback of others.
  2. Embrace the uncertainty of collaboration by giving everyone permission to fail.
  3. There are actually no foolish Ideas. Many of the greatest ideas began as foolish ideas.
  4. Prioritize acceptance over agreement. Acceptance is always the best way to come to a fair and effective agreement.
  5. Collaboration thrives when every person involved can contribute with acceptance, clarity, and support.
  6. Collaborative ideas are collectively inspired, and they stem from something much greater than ourselves. Avoid becoming overly attached to your ideas when collaborating. They are not yours to keep so it’s okay to release them and see what happens.
  7. Recognize efforts regularly & celebrate success as often as possible.

Come work on your collaboration and networking with a community of likeminded business owners and entrepreneurs at our weekly BOSS Board Meet Ups! More Info Here.

If you would like to learn more about Project 3810, our community, and how we are equipped to serve you, click here.