Going with the Flow: Is Technology Making You Less Flexible?


Millennials Seem Resistant to Ambiguity

When technology permeates nearly every aspect of our lives, ambiguity is bound to rear its head. We tend to think of technology, apps, and new digital devices as disruptors, fundamentally changing our routines and the ways we live our lives. But these changes can also lead to increased anxiety, especially when facing ambiguous or novel situations with no clear end point.

A new study from Medical Xpress suggests Millennials and Generation Z are less comfortable dealing with ambiguity in the workplace, citing increased levels of anxiety and a lack of self-confidence. The study used a sample of more than 800 people across all different industries. Participants were asked to respond to a series of “I” statements, such as “I get anxious when taking on problems without a definite solution,” and “I enjoy dealing with new challenges at work.”

Both Millennials and Generation Z scored well below their older counterparts, which also suggests younger generations may be unequipped to handle the problems of the future. Certain traits such as staying calm in the face of ambiguity, embracing novelty, and being resourceful are all important leadership skills, leaving some to wonder if Millennials have what it takes to be effective leaders in the years and decades to come.

What Is Ambiguity?

Let’s break this down by first getting a better sense of what we mean when we say ambiguity. Many of us know what it feels like to deal with ambiguity on a regular basis and technology is often the root cause. Here are some common situations filled with ambiguity:

Did they see my text? Why aren’t they texting me back?

My boss just messaged me on Slack. Should I ask a follow up question to clarify or figure it out on my own?

My friend told me they were out of town. But they just posted a photo on Facebook of them at our other friend’s birthday party. Were they lying or did their plans change?

The marketing data shows my customers like product X, but they don’t like product Y. Will they like product Z?

Technology is designed to change nearly every aspect of our lives – for better and worse. While many of the apps we use can simplify life, letting us message our friends, pay for goods and services, or request a ride with just the tap of our finger, we’re also overwhelmed with more digital information now than at any point in human history. In just the last two years, 90% of the data in the world has been created. And that pace isn’t slowing down any time soon.

Finding Stability with Age

But these generational differences in attitude regarding ambiguity might be related to a person’s level of life experience. People tend to become more emotionally stable as time goes on, which would explain why older generations seem to keep their cool when dealing with ambiguity in the workplace.

How do we deal with ambiguous situations?

But older generations did not grow up with the digital tools that now make up so much of our lives. Perhaps these years away from technology helped older generations develop the leadership and problem-solving skills they need to deal with ambiguity in the workplace. If that’s true, Millennials and Generation Z may be missing out on important life experiences they would otherwise have if they put down their smartphones. On the other hand, learning these skills may take time, and technology or not, Millennials and Generation Z just need more life experience before they can handle ambiguity with ease.

Too Much Routine?

Another explanation for the study could be that Millennials and Generation Z simply don’t have enough experience dealing with ambiguity in the first place. While we tend to think of technology as disrupting our lives, once we get used to using the same apps and software programs day in and day out, our exposure to ambiguity starts to plummet. Video games force us to experience the same situations over and over again. Scrolling through photos and videos on social media isn’t exactly a novel experience.

As much as technology can lead to ambiguity, it can also limit our exposure to uncertainty, which inhibits our ability to deal with and respond to ambiguity when it rears its head.

If you feel like you’re living the same routine and avoiding ambiguity at all costs, seek out new experiences and learn to thrive in uncertainty.

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