The Power of Ambiguity

Rokusuke Ei was returning from a failed protest of U.S. military forces in Japan.  He had a song come to him.  The lyrics he wrote were purposely ambiguous and could also be interpreted as one of lost love.  The song’s title was difficult to pronounce so as the song became popular in other countries, its name was changed to Sukiyaki in America.  The lyrics also changed as it was covered by groups in other countries.  You can hear the original version of the song with English subtitles here:

One would think that the ambiguous and changeable lyrics would impact the song’s success.  But the song has become one of the most popular songs ever worldwide.  It reached number one status in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the United States, and West Germany.  It has been recorded by groups in virtually every developed nation.  It has also been used by NASA to calm down astronauts when they are in space.

Much of the success of Sukiyaki is that it has been adapted to fit the cultures of many countries.  The melody remains, but the lyrics have changed.  In fact, people around the world feel a sense of ownership.

The power of ambiguity is that it can lead to many interpretations.  While some people despise working through ambiguous situations, others thrive on ambiguity because it allows them to exercise their creativity.

Some situations are deliberately framed as ambiguous in order to see how different minds will think about the situation.  You may have been given an assignment like this:  “I want you to spend some time observing xxx and tell me what you see.”  Ambiguous assignments are more about framing the problem so that the analysis can become more targeted.

Since ambiguous situations have no defined boundaries or constraints, they provide freedom to explore possibilities.  To see how this works, click the following link for the Spanish version of Sukiyaki sung by the Tejano performer, Selena:

Rather than being feared, ambiguity should be embraced for what it is – an opportunity for you to be curious, inventive, and bold.

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“There is something special about the beauty in the unclear, the ambiguity, the in-between that you can’t totally recognize.” – Alessandro Michele (fashion designer)

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