Navigating Ambiguity: Reflections on MLK

Suzanne S. Davenport
5 min readJan 19, 2024

I woke, on MLK Day and the top task on my list was to finish the blog draft that is scheduled to be posted on Wednesday and put it into WordPress. After spending an hour or so meditating, stretching, reflecting, and reading some of MLK’s speeches, I changed my plan and decided to write out some of my thoughts. I’ve been navigating ambiguity for several weeks and there was something about that meditation period that caused me to wonder about my priorities.

Some client matters are a bit confusing and disconcerting right now and I can’t change that. My Evernote subscription is coming up for renewal; their price increases have been significant; and I’ve struggled with Evernote for several years now. Combine that with large family celebrations and year end reflections and I’ve struggled to know where to focus. The Evernote renewal date is nearing quickly, so that feels like a priority. I’ve reviewed a massive number of alternatives — and that takes time. Time that doesn’t feel well spent.

I keep asking myself what I should be doing. So, here are some recommendations for navigating ambiguity.

Be intentional

Ambiguity is not new. I’m reasonably sure Martin Luther King had periods of ambiguity too. I’m not sure they thought of it quite the same way that we think of today.

In reading some of the writings by historian, professor, and author, William P. Jones about the March on Washington, it became clear that the 1963 March started out being about jobs and morphed into being about freedom. Talk about scope creep!

The History Channel gives credit for the March to A. Philip Randolph, a prominent civil rights leader. Jones writes that the idea came from an unnamed woman at another event in early 1941. Randolph went on to organize the March to protest for armed forces integration and stop workforce discrimination. But when the President met with Randolph, and agreed to changes that represented significant progress, Randolph canceled the March plans. I hope that represents an intentional decision rather than a project failure.

By the 1960’s, blacks were understandably angry about the insufficient progress and the 1963 March on Washington attracted a quarter million people. By anyone’s definition, it was a project success — after 20+ years of work.

One of my frustrations with traditional project tools is this sense that if the plan calls for X to happen on a given day or week, that is what must happen. I think it’s much more important to intentionally focus on the smart next step.

Stay focused on your goals and objectives

MLK’s goals began with a focus on jobs and discrimination. In time his goal changed to the cause of freedom. Goals can change and that’s why it’s important to periodically focus on them. When you feel like you are unsuccessfully navigating ambiguity, spend time reassessing your goals and objectives.

As I read MLK’s last speech, I wondered what MLK would think about the technological changes over the last year. I wonder how the technological advances will impact the cause of freedom globally.

And as I have tried to find an alternative to Evernote, I have been struck by the amount of time and energy others are putting into building a Second Brain — as Tiago Forte calls it. While I’m fascinated by the idea, I often feel like people are so consumed by developing an elaborate system that the work of doing so has taken over hours of their day. Is that time well spent? Does that work align with your goals and objectives?

4 Tips for Navigating Ambiguity both at work and at home! #ambiguity #projectmangement #focus #2024goals #smartprojex

Define your projects and areas

Periodically, I run across the idea of the PARA Method, developed by Tiago Forte. It’s a simple way of organizing your digital life and the four categories are: Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archive. For years I have explored the idea of using project management disciplines to reimagine all work. In my exploration, I have come to believe that Areas are a type of Project that has no deadline and no defined finish.

As we enter a new year, it is typical to go through a process of assessing the projects that are on your drawing board. Don’t forget to include your areas. What objectives have you identified in the areas of your life that are important to you?

Don’t let the glamour of technology take your focus off of people

As I was reflecting this morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people in my life. As I’ve said for years, people are the key to success in life. No one has gotten there on their own. And MLK certainly had a lot of help from the people in his life.

As I reflected on the people in my life and MLK’s life, it is the people in our life that can help us the most when we are navigating ambiguity. For many of us the process of doing so can be filled with more thinking and less doing. Don’t let the thinking consume you. One of the biggest areas about which people are thinking these days is technology — because it’s changing so rapidly.

But as we think about technology and how it can help us, I’m reminded that there is no AI who can make my plane reservations to visit family. I don’t have an AI who can invite my friends over for dinner or make the meal. And at this point, I haven’t found an AI who can write a blog I would put my name on.

We’ve all been reading about the layoffs in major tech companies. From my perspective they come at a time when I am increasingly frustrated by these same companies. For example, I recently submitted some returns to the Amazon interface. This is something I do a lot. And, perhaps due to AI, when my two return requests were processed, I learned that one item needed to be returned to Staples (my request) but the system intuitively (?) set the other one up to be returned to Whole Foods. I wonder what system thinks that sending me to two different locations for two returns on the same day is a good idea.

I’d encourage everyone to keep your focus on your people: clients, employees, families, shareholders, etc.

Hope the suggestions for navigating ambiguity have been helpful. Check out my newsletter or books if you need more help.



Suzanne S. Davenport

Writes on project management, leadership and reimagining work. Author: Herding Smart Cats.