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Embrace and Harness Uncertainty with Maggie Jackson 

We’re afraid of the unknown – that’s human nature. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant. But instead of running away, what if we learn to embrace our uncertainty for the better? That’s what Maggie Jackson, award-winning author and journalist, wants to explore. Jackson is a prolific writer on social trends and the impact of technology on humanity. She’s written for the New York Times, The Boston Globe and other publications worldwide. In this Innovation Women webinar, she shares insights from her latest book, “Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure.” Throughout the presentation, she enlightens attendees on the value of the unknown during times of change. 

Reframing uncertainty as a gift 

When faced with something new and unexpected, we have a stress response. New things are often seen as unsettling, but as Jackson explains, “Your focus widens, and your working memory is bolstered. You can remember more at that moment. The brain becomes more receptive to new information.” In other words, feeling uncertain is beneficial to learning and absorbing new information.  

This state of enhanced memory-making and positive stress helps you learn and absorb new information – which has plenty of real-world applications. Jackson mentions a study done on CEOs during a crisis. The ambivalent CEOs felt unsure of what would happen during the crisis, so they were more open to inclusive conversations with everyone at the table. Confident, unchallenged CEOs were the ones sticking to the status quo. Jackson says that moments of uncertainty allow us to “jolt ourselves out of our assumptions and explore possibilities.”  

“By being open to change, being on the edge of what we know and what we don’t, we become more skilled. We become more able to adapt and to thrive in this new world of change.” 

As women, how do we harness this uncertainty? 

Uncertainty is often seen as a weakness in women, but Jackson highlights the importance of turning it into a strength. She delves into the myths surrounding women in the investing world, where 63 percent of financial advisors are men. Women in this industry are seen as indecisive when it comes to investments, but reports reveal women tend to approach high-risk decisions with a thoughtful and diligent mindset. Where others see this hesitation or indecisiveness as a weakness, it’s actually a wise and deliberate approach to decision-making. Jackson highlights how important it is to remain curious and ask questions, as this uncertainty and curiosity “keeps a problem open.”  

“Superior performing experts, called adaptive experts, are more likely to spend time diagnosing a new, complex problem. They spend more time than even novices do. They take the time to uncover the complexity that’s hidden there.” 

One of the most important points Jackson emphasizes is how the unknown can expand your practice. This mindset of trying to embrace new experiences and harness the power of uncertainty can transform your fears of disaster into an invitation to learn, improve thinking and develop creativity.  

Transforming uncomfortable feelings into productive ones 

We have two responses when faced with something uncomfortable: “fear” and “approach.” While fear triggers our survival instincts, approach mode brings heightened focus and increased attention. Recognition transforms our uncomfortable feelings of fear into something like uncertainty, making it easier to tackle. As Jackson says, “It’s important to embrace the uncertainty of life itself so that you can open up, look at the nuances and think about other perspectives. Be on the edge and be adaptable.” 

By understanding how the body responds to stress, you can shift from fear to approach mode, strategically owning uncertainty. People, and especially women, can turn discomfort into a powerful cognitive tool for navigating life’s challenges with resilience and creativity. 

Want to hear more from Innovation Women speakers? Browse the webinar series and discover more inspiring talks. 

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