Why We Need To Get Comfortable With Confusion

NonsenseCertainty and assuredness are highly regarded in most circles. Confidence in our beliefs and a sense of control over what lay ahead helps ease our minds. As important as these qualities are, their opposite might also need some time in the spotlight.

In Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, Jamie Holmes explores the problematic side-effect to our need for closure.

“Let’s say, for example, you see a white crow. At first you’re a little surprised. You peer at the bird with heightened attention, and then eventually you switch into the more domineering mind state that making decisions requires. You can assimilate the experience and decide that the bird is a dove. Or you can accommodate it and recognize that albino crows exist.”


“An event doesn’t have to be dangerous to increase our need for closure. It merely has to challenge how we see the world.”

In a world exemplified by change, this need for closure can cause us to jump to conclusions and ignore possible alternatives.

“Urgently fixating on certainty is our defense mechanism against the unknown and unstable. However, what we need in turbulent times is adaptability and calculated reevaluation.”

On the edge of the unknown, trial and error, failure and adaptability reign supreme. But we’re not being instructed in their ways.

“Have you ever had a lecturer highlight the necessity of stumbling, errors, and luck in developing breakthrough innovations? Or is the messy process of creativity usually sanitized after the fact? Have you ever been given a classroom assignment that you were 80 percent likely to fail at, matching an entrepreneur’s odds? Have you ever confronted a school problem that might have no solution? Have you practiced overcoming how it feels to fail?”

Without practice, we are less likely to employ the right tactics in the face of conflicting information or belief-bending experiences.

“A person’s comfort with confusion, the ability to admit that he or she is wrong, resilience, and the willingness to take risks are primarily emotional skills. Students have to grow comfortable not just with the idea that failure is a part of innovation but with the idea that confusion is, too.”

Read more in Jamie Holmes’ book Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing.