How To Use Uncertainty More Effectively In The Real World


Progress daily in your own uncertainty. Live in awareness of the questions. – Bremer Acosta, Stoic Practice

Some people are very sure of their place in the world and what they are here to do.

Some of us are less certain.

Certainty is a form of faith – a belief that needs no proof and is just accepted as true.

Which makes it hard to tell whether that faith really is true or if it’s misplaced.

And that makes it uncertain.

You may experience a similar problem when you try and think about how to describe yourself.

Are you where you are right now?

Or are you where you are going?

For example, if you work in an office doing analytical work but you really want to be a musician and spend all your evenings and weekends working on that, are you an analyst or a musician?

The Uncertainty Principle talks about two things – where you are and where you’re going.

And the more you know about one the less you can be certain of the other.

In a quantum world anyway – in a physical sense.

In the real world, the physics stops being an issue but that doesn’t stop us moving the principle into our mental worlds.

I copied the picture above from a cartoon because it expresses the uncertainty in life pretty well.

We spend most of our days being uncertain.

Uncertain of what customers want, what our partners want and what our pets want.

In business, especially, a lot of work goes into trying to remove uncertainty by making work transactional.

Something transactional can be reduced to the simple act of exchanging something well defined for money – a commodity trade.

And there are good arguments for going that way.

Many markets are opaque, hard to understand and don’t have good information – making it possible for people to take fees for helping you out.

Any market like that is an opportunity for someone who has the ability to open things up by using information.

Of course, that doesn’t remove uncertainty – it just reduces it or, more importantly, reduces the impact it has on you.

Take shopping on Amazon or Ebay for example.

Do you expect to get the best price always?

Or do you stop looking when it appears that what you have is cheap looking at the other options on the screen in front of you?

So what does this mean for you and me – how can you use uncertainty strategically?

First, here’s the bad way.

Many people believe that the way to get ahead is to project an aura of certainty.

That’s a salesperson’s training.

Believe in the product, believe in yourself and the self-talk will make the world bend to your will.

If you’re pitching and someone finds a flaw in your argument plough on regardless – your certainty and determination will get people to buy into you.

The second approach, and perhaps the more strategic one, is to look at the future as a distribution of possibilities.

You are – you have to be uncertain of the outcome.

There’s no other way to exist and be honest about the way things are.

But what you can do is reduce uncertainty – and you do that by combining distributions.

If you’re not into the math that probably doesn’t make any sense but remember what Scott Adams said about why Dilbert, his cartoon series, took off.

He was an average writer, an average artist and knew an average amount about engineering.

A career in each of those fields has a fairly wide probability distribution and his chances of wild success would have been low.

But, when you combined the three, you ended up with a much narrower distribution – how many people write and draw a cartoon strip about engineers?

What he didn’t do was create a niche in writing – for example focusing on science fiction.

He created a category all to himself by combining three normally unrelated things.

And the mathematical term for what this results in is confidence – something that in the real world also works very well.

In a nutshell, making your pitch on your certainty is asking people to believe in you.

Making your pitch on confidence is showing people how you have narrowed the range of possible outcomes.

Which do you think has a better chance of succeeding?


Karthik Suresh

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