Consider the following set of seemingly unrelated questions:
- When a company is recruiting: Should we employ this person?
- For an infrastructure owner/manager: Should we keep maintaining our old assets, or replace them with something new?
- When you sit down to start work: What should I work on today?
- For a nation or community: What must we do to respond to our changing climate?
- During a meeting: What is the purpose of this meeting, and why was I invited?
The thread that connects the answer to each of these questions is clarity.
Clarity is a fundamental element of great strategy, organisations and relationships. It is one of the most powerful outcomes that can be achieved by an individual, team or community. When we have clarity, we are more fulfilled as individuals and our organisations and communities thrive.
So, what is clarity and why is it so powerful?
Clarity exists in multiple forms. It can be a quality of something (e.g. clarity in the way we communicate), and/or an outcome (e.g. achieving clarity on an important issue).
At its core, clarity is the state or quality of being clear, coherent, intelligible and free from ambiguity.
In part, clarity is so powerful because it links directly to one of our fundamental human motives – to reduce uncertainty. We don’t enjoy being in a state of uncertainty because it generates a great deal of cognitive stress. If you’ve ever felt paralysed by choice, or wanted to google the name of “that actor from that movie” in the middle of a conversation with a friend, then you’ve experienced the fundamental human desire to reduce uncertainty. Uncertainty has a real human cost, and clarity has a real human benefit.
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.Brené Brown, Dare to Lead
In the context of businesses and other organisations, clarity is very impactful. In his book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni states that “creating, communicating and reinforcing clarity are cornerstones of ‘organisational health’”, which is in turn the single greatest advantage that any organisation can achieve (you can read our summary of The Advantage here).
Clarity is becoming ever more important in the world we live in.
Modern society is defined by an excess of opportunity. We have more information, more products, and more options than ever before. As a result, curating, filtering, and refining are more important skills than ever before. Those who edit best will find the signal in the noise.James Clear, Atomic Habits
We see this ‘excess of opportunity’ frequently. Organisations usually have a number of challenges, different roads they could take to meet these challenges, attractive opportunities they could pursue and a number of legitimately qualified people offering opinions on what they should be doing. Unfortunately, this situation frequently leads to a long list of objectives and an organisation’s scarce time, resources and attention spread too thin across all of them. This often means that lots of things will be progressed, but in a mediocre fashion.
The antidote to an excess of opportunity is clarity. The highest performing organisations tend to be clearly focussed on a small number of priorities at any one time. By piling their efforts behind fewer areas of focus, they achieve more meaningful results. This is described well in Morten Hansen’s Great at Work in which he coins the mantra: Do less, then obsess.
A common misconception is that clarity is the same as certainty. In our fast paced and often unpredictable world, certainty is rarely achievable. In the face of uncertainty we are often biased towards searching for more precision and correctness so that we can take the action or make the decision that is “right”. Ultimately this desire for certainty often leads to important action being postponed, and communications that are vague and tentative. We should instead err on the side of creating clarity, even in the face of uncertainty. Clarity means having a bias for action, instead of always waiting for more information, and clearly explaining the basis for our decision and actions. Taking decisive action based on a sound approach should always be a relief. Even when you don’t get the outcome you want, you’ve done all you can. If things don’t go your way, take Patrick Lencioni’s beautifully simple and practical advice:
If the decisions you make in the spirit of creating clarity turn out to be wrong when more information becomes available, change plans and explain why.Patrick Lencioni, The Five Temptations of a CEO
With increased clarity comes easier decision making, more effective action to tackle challenges, and better working lives and relationships. While achieving clarity can be challenging, it is absolutely a worthwhile pursuit, and is well within reach for every individual, organisation and community.
For some more detailed guidance on creating clarity, see our article on our top tips for creating clarity.
Some final thoughts about clarity to leave you with:
- Remember that clarity doesn’t equal certainty. Make sure you leave room for doubt, and periodically check your key assumptions. If something changes, or new information becomes available, don’t be afraid to change plans and explain why – this is a powerful way to create clarity.
- Clarity is not someone else’s problem. Create clarity for yourself and others whenever it is in your power to do so, and expect others to do the same for you. Everyone has the ability to create clarity, and thereby be more fulfilled, while helping our organisations and communities to thrive.