Why Judgment Matters

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Exposure to judgment and uncertainty aren’t going away. Nor, as a creator, do you want them to. Judgment, delivered constructively, provides the information needed to create at higher and higher levels. And uncertainty is a signpost of novelty and innovation, telling you that what you’re creating is really worth creating.

For most other endeavors, once that energy cedes to the more long-term, “get it done” nature of any meaningful creative endeavor, the discomfort and anxiety that ride along become a stronger and stronger force.

All too often, one of two things happens. The fear and anxiety lure you into wanting to move too quickly from freedom to constraint. They make you want to close off options, create rules, systems, and processes, stop exploring, adapting, testing, permuting, experimenting, and evolving. Not because it’s the right time, not because you’ve finally reached a point at which you’ve accomplished what you’re truly capable of, but because the uncertainty, the anxiety, the suffering that come from not being “there” yet or from fear of being criticized for taking a risk and getting it wrong is killing you. And you just want it to end.

Or the opposite happens. Your inability to wrangle the fear and uncertainty stops you from ever starting or makes you so freaked out about making the wrong decisions that you endlessly debate every step along the way, lose your ability to make decisions and take action, and end up stalled.

The move from freedom to constraint has to happen. If it doesn’t, there’s no output . . . and no impact.

The key is to hit that sweet spot, giving yourself enough time to play in the realm of possibilities before yielding to the limits and structures needed to execute on your best ideas.

Even when a particular project—be it a painting, book, product, service, or entity—comes into being, that’s only part of a much bigger creation journey. When you broaden your view, such endeavors become stopping points, snapshots of your capabilities and your contribution to a much bigger quest to build a body of work or a meaningful career over a lifetime. Each endeavor is a giant creation crux move on a far grander creation arc that will take decades to build.

One of the biggest awakenings as you strive to build a project, a career, and a life worthy of a legacy is that, in the end, there is no there there. No resting point. No certainty. No place to hide from either the inner or outer critics.

The book may be finished, the movie wrapped, the company launched, or the product revealed. But what will you do when you go to work tomorrow?

You and what you create will remain, to varying degrees, in a state of constant evolution. If you’re properly equipped to handle “living in the question,” that’s not a bad thing. Your ability to not only live with, but lean into and proactively seek out risk, judgment, and uncertainty—to transform it from what is, for most people, a default experience of suffering into fuel for creation—will play a huge role in your ability to create genius in every aspect of your work, your relationships, and your life, both in the moment and over a lifetime.


Excerpted from Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance with permission from Penguin/Portfolio.



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10 responses

10 responses to “Why Judgment Matters”

  1. Jim Van Wyck says:

    Yes… that is one of the challenges of creating new things … finding the balance between risk, uncertainty, even fear — and making things concrete, finished, constrained by the real world.

    As always, I really appreciate your insights on this.



  2. I lived this clearly at the Babson Faculty Forum on Social Innovation Education last month.

    In one session, we were told to get into teams of four, discuss our individual goals, and then prepare a presentation of common themes back to the group.

    Sounds really easy, right? What unfolded was a disorienting, somewhat tense discussion on how to execute on this assignment.

    Two in our group (including me) are Processors. We love agendas, time-keeping, progress and output.

    The other two are Visionaries. They love word play, concepts, big designs, and immeasurable forces.

    So when it came to how to interpret the instructions, we were on different planets.

    What I realized from that experience is my tendency to rush the visioning part of any collaboration in an impatience to get to tactics. While my style has gotten me to the level I’m on now, it will not get me higher. Too much value is lost when one races into action.

    An exceptional mentor showed me this. She happens to be one of the Visionaries.

  3. Marie Davis says:

    Jonathan, in a thousand, million years I could never thank you enough for this post.

  4. jeanne says:


    this is so so so sooooo good! i am running, not walking, over to amazon to get this *immediately*. it characterizes beautifully and makes me feel so good about my own experience. since i worked one-on-one with you a couple of years ago (!) i have been evolving. i never imagined it would be so frightening or so fruitful. it took a while, but *just now* I am finding that sweet spot.

    one thought that has helped me — which is like what you say: “The book may be finished, the movie wrapped, the company launched, or the product revealed. But what will you do when you go to work tomorrow?” — is that i am in the midst of eternity. what is the rush when i am sincerely doing everything i can to move my mission along? and then i enjoy the doing.

    thanks for this, jonathan! and *all* your posts (very glad you made it so they can be read in their entirety in the email:)

    oh, and by the way, i DID notice you were gone when you went quiet for a couple of weeks. i wondered if it was just me being so busy that i overlooked your posts when they arrived or… what is jonathan doing now?? is he ok?

    congrats on the book, jonathan! and thank you for it 🙂


  5. Clare Norman says:

    This was a timely reminder for me to embrace uncertainty as I design new performance support mechanisms for supervisors. I need to slow down and really get to grips with what they need, rather than rushing in to create, based on what I THINK they need. I’m uneasy with that, but I’ve been learning about Human-Centred Design this week, so am getting to grips with it, slowly, but surely. Practice will make (somewhat) perfect. Thanks Jonathan

  6. Jen says:

    Thank you for this post…I needed some inspiration! I just bought the book on-line. But, I think that even from the post I am inspired to keep going.

  7. Priyanka says:

    just that it’s about fears big and small and leaning into risks, inspires me. also, love the way it is worded. m sharing this share. thanks 🙂

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  10. I believe that knowing the timing is the key to success. One has to know when to diverge and exploring new ideas and when to converge and analyze all the work done, selecting the jewels and leaving the stones behind. Great post!