The Power of Not Knowing

by Jamie Holmes

An illuminating look at the surprising upside of ambiguity—and how, properly harnessed, it can inspire learning, creativity, even empathy
Life today feels more overwhelming and chaotic than ever. Whether it’s a confounding work problem or a faltering relationship or an unclear medical diagnosis, we face constant uncertainty. And we’re continually bombarded with information, much of it contradictory.
Managing ambiguity—in our jobs, our relationships, and daily lives—is quickly becoming an essential skill. Yet most of us don’t know where to begin.
As Jamie Holmes shows in Nonsense, being confused is unpleasant, so we tend to shutter our minds as we grasp for meaning and stability, especially in stressful circumstances. We’re hard-wired to resolve contradictions quickly and extinguish anomalies. This can be useful, of course. When a tiger is chasing you, you can’t be indecisive. But as Nonsense reveals, our need for closure has its own dangers. It makes us stick to our first answer, which is not always the best, and it makes us search for meaning in the wrong places. When we latch onto fast and easy truths, we lose a vital opportunity to learn something new, solve a hard problem, or see the world from another perspective.
In other words, confusion—that uncomfortable mental place—has a hidden upside. We just need to know how to use it. This lively and original book points the way.

Over the last few years, new insights from social psychology and cognitive science have deepened our understanding of the role of ambiguity in our lives and Holmes brings this research together for the first time, showing how we can use uncertainty to our advantage. Filled with illuminating stories—from spy games and doomsday cults to Absolut Vodka’s ad campaign and the creation of Mad Libs—Nonsense promises to transform the way we conduct business, educate our children, and make decisions.
In an increasingly unpredictable, complex world, it turns out that what matters most isn’t IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know. It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand.

From the Hardcover edition.

Recent Reviews


Julius McCarter

4 Stars

Jamie Holmes' Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing defies simple description, unlike any number of other popular psychology texts that intend to teach readers "seven simple steps" for overcoming uncertainty.  Instead,…

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Lots of insights into many ways of knowing & not knowing

Bill Gabbard

4 Stars

Holmes offers truly interesting and entertaining examples as he illustrates many different ways of knowing. So many insights in this book. Each chapter…

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Cindi Adkins

4.5 Stars

This was such a good advice book. I got a lot out of this book. It was well written and it didn't ever get to a point where I felt that I wasn't finding out what I needed or I was bored. It was just a very good helpful book. I think it was…

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Book Review: Nonsense

Mou Saha

5 Stars

"In an increasingly complex, unpredictable world, what matters most isn't IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know.

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Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing: Book Review

Shirley Copeland

3 Stars

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing (2015) by Jamie Holmes is a research-based exposition of uncertainty and its effect on decision making and life’s decisions.   In many situations, the need for…

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