Managing uncertainty

2008

We all look for truth. However, it might be necessary to use speculation, hypothesis and fantasy on the journey towards the truth.

Prior to taking action, we like to feel that we know the truth. However, this can't always be the case and so we might need to take action without being certain of the truth. Therefore, our actions are sometimes based around minimising risk.

Dealing with uncertainty requires special management skills. While it is always commendable to seek the truth, we also need to be able to act on half-truths and uncertainties.

Some people are excellent at managing in situations when things are going very well. There are also people who succeed in managing when things are going badly. Not many people can manage successfully in times of great uncertainty, however. It is difficult to make plans and decisions when the present is uncertain and it requires a high level of management skill.

We are used to the future being uncertain, but we are less comfortable when there is a degree of uncertainty about the present situation.

How should we deal with rumours? A rumour might be half true or not true at all. The word 'rumour' indicates that we should pay attention to it but perhaps not believe it fully. While 'rumour' clearly describes uncertainty of information, there is no equivalent term for action in an uncertain situation.

We can think of many possibilities and 'maybes'. They then become the environment in which we think, decide and act. We do not take action because of the uncertainties, but they nonetheless influence our actions and help us come up with safeguards.

'Possible' might describe something that is low in probability. However, it is better to treat it as something completely different. 'Possible' should mean exactly that – something that is possible. The probability scale is not relevant. You might have a probable hypothesis which is reasonable but unproved. You might have a possible hypothesis which is just speculation.

The scan for possibility should be as wide as it can be. You need to develop your management skills to look at all possibilities when considering explanations. Once you have seen a possibility, it is only then that you can find things that support that possibility. When you look for 'probable' explanations, you are limited to your present perceptions and knowledge, which form the foundation for any judgment of probability.

'Possibility' enlarges your perception; probability narrows it.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono is a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.