Approximate Thinking & Innovation: Lessons from “Fuzzy on the Dark Side”

How does ‘Approximate Thinking’ relate to innovation, and how can it inform the pursuit of worthy creative projects?

This is a description of a seminar / short course that I’ve prepared to apply important “Approximate Thinking” lessons to fostering innovation and creativity.

  • It is the second in a series, whose first part (Approximate Thinking Management) discusses the application of Approximate Thinking lessons to management in general.

The discussion is based on the ideas presented in the book: “Fuzzy on the Dark Side: Approximate Thinking, and how the mists of creativity can become a prison of illusion”.

Book Description

Fuzzy on the Dark Side on Barnes & Noble : Fuzzy and Approximate Thinking
Fuzzy on the Dark Side on Amazon : Fuzzy and Approximate Thinking

Approximate Thinking & Its Reasons

Most of our thinking is approximate thinking. We grasp ideas in a ‘fuzzy’ manner, and our communication, actions, and thoughts are mostly incomplete representations.

Fuzzy (or Approximate) Thinking is how deal with the pervasive knowledge incompleteness that we live in. Accuracy is replaced by a set of shortcuts that come from group meanings (culture) or our identity (real or imagined).

A detailed discussion of this phenomenon, its reasons, and effects on different field can be found in the book and on this page.

Applied : Approximate Thinking & Innovation

“Fuzzy on the Dark Side” frequently describes outcomes of decisions as falling either on the dark or the bright side. Approximate Thinking is as a double-edged blade, with very asymmetrical outcomes resulting from its use.

One of the most important contrasts presented in the book is the contrast between a creative and dynamic destiny, and a prison governed by illusions and uncontrolled emotions.

The side on which people (and groups) will eventually fall depends on the management of ambiguity and uncertainty, on an ongoing readiness to deal with incompleteness, and on a resulting moment of control.

Fostering innovation can’t be seen as a ‘quick fix’ or a prescribed set of simple recommendations – It boils down to the balance of the conscious and intuitive modes of behavior, so the effort should span individual and cultural levels.

All this starts with a mentality that accepts incompleteness, is aware of its manifestations on the different action levels, and attempts to make the most of it.

Important Considerations & Dimensions

Innovation and Creativity shouldn’t be regarded as automatic and linear tasks that can be attained by a naïve prescription. The endeavor itself should be one that channels ambiguity and incompleteness, incorporates lessons from the intersection of design and management, and even has the appreciation of elegance at its heart.

Here are some important fronts to be noted, and which have – at their core – the dimensions mentioned in “Approximate Thinking Management“:

  • Objective Fuzziness : Do we really know what we want to do? How flexible should we be with this? Sometimes (too much) specificity can be detrimental to ingenuity, while excessive ambiguity might yield confusion.
  • Fuzzy Exploration : Balancing exploration and play with efficient and result-oriented exploitation is a risky task which requires the juggling of different sets of responsibilities and roles.
  • Manage Culture : Culture is not stable and fixed, yet attempting to tamper with it in a ‘too-deterministic’ manner can be quite risky. The focus instead should aim to balance the ‘edge’ between deterministic and fuzzy variables.
  • Strategic Accumulation : With time, ongoing tasks, resources, and stories, can gain more power and potency. The essence here is connecting daily requirements, with exploration, while always sharpening the saw in novel ways.
  • Fuzzy Knowledge (Approximating Analytics, Knowledge, Wisdom): How should we combine clarity and approximation to articulate practical strategies?
  • Approximate Resources : What are (all) the resources we can utilize? How can we be creative with resource classification and utilization?

The discussions in this course describe the above, and apply the frameworks introduced in the book, in order to avoid ‘the dark side’ of illusions while utilizing the creative potential of Approximate Thinking.