John Keats, a well-known poet, coined this phrase in a letter back in 1817. He defined negative capability this way: “When a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” 

What Keats is describing is the ability to remain unbound by our limited conception of what’s possible. This frees us from the thinking within the bounds of logic and science.  

Here’s the business application.

While a sense of certainty is reassuring, intellectual certainty can limit our creativity. How might negative capability help you innovate? Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Get comfortable with humility. Keats described humility as being capable of submission. It’s ok to not understand or to not know something.
  2. Get comfortable with maybe NEVER knowing. Realize that there may be a lot you’ll never understand. Knowledge is not a destination. Rather, its pursuit is a lifetime’s unending journey.
  3. Get comfortable with things looking fuzzy. If you’re laser-focused on one target, you’ll never see the broader landscape of considerations. So, unfocus your eyes and observe.

Meander off the known path, allowing yourself the opportunity to explore, make mistakes, and learn. 

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