Decision Making: The Art of Reducing Uncertainty and Risk in our Lives

A recent article Master the art of strategic simplicity by Rick Spence explores some of Ken Segall’s (his book: “Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success”) thoughts on how Apple succeeds through use of the principle of simplicity. My post is going to apply this a bit more broadly to the activity of making decisions and how this relates to dealing with uncertainty and risk (U&R) in our lives.

Segall’s books explores ten approaches Apple use to apply the principle of simplicity.

Think Brutal: being blunt is simplicity, it removes uncertainty around what is meant or implied in our conversations with others. Vagueness is the cloud of uncertainty. We are not sure what we heard, what was meant, how we should take or respond to it, etc. This is from the listener’s perspective. I also suggest that when we are vague we are unclear in our minds what we hope/intend to achieve when we speak. In fact we may be unclear in our thinking about the topic of concern. this is unclear thinking and is a form of self induced vagueness, i.e., introduction of self induced uncertainty into our minds.

The dark side of being blunt is if it is not done well and with recipient understanding of intent, it will create an adverse reaction of resistance and rejection. This is a risk of this approach. Fortunately, being blunt is a skill so it is learnable by both speaker and listener.

Think Small and Think Minimal: focusing on the few seemingly most important is a way of reducing uncertainty. Dealing with fewer rather than more people aids in ensuring what we need/meant is understood and reflected by other people in their future actions with us. This builds upon the notion covered above. Focus on fewer options reduces complexity in choice which helps reduce uncertainty in what we should choose and do. While we are unable to choose we are caught in a place of uncertainty (as opposed to risk)

Part of my consulting practice is to help clients deal with decision dilemmas. A common contributor to a decision issue being a dilemma is the decider is dealing with more than two options. The largest step in making a choice is to forego an attractive choice. I spend more time in helping determine the basis for saying no than yes to multiple choices.

What is the inherent U&R in this approach? Failing to choose amongst better alternatives. Many decisions have a sense of timeliness in them (i.e., notion of being early, on time, or late) as well as poor – okay – better – best.

Think Motion: movement is usually a significant aspect of choice it means we are serious about acting on our cerebral deliberations. U&R stays (can even increase) by not acting. The act of action is one of changing position literally and figuratively. The benefit is a change in perspective and viewpoint, i.e., we can learn new information about our decision issue. I would suggest that most issues in our lives involve the art of “navigation”. We need to move forward, sideways, backwards, up, down and through time to have a better chance to deal with our U&R. Staying put is an option that has the inherent U&R that we are concerned about (or why would we contemplate a decision to change). Even decisions to stay put and defend the status quo creates a setting of changing U&R: while we stay put the world around us is not, hence we are constantly changing our future U&R exposure. This changing exposure, means we will have to make some additional decisions in the future.

Think Iconic: This is act of creating symbols. In terms of science these are formulae. In other parts of our lives these can metaphors, analogies, models, etc. The act of creating iconic expressions about our issues is they achieve at least two important purposes: they create clarity in our mind what it is that is important to focus on; they suggest applicability of  strategies we have learned to be successful in other jurisdictions.

The U&R is this is of course is we are so taken with our conceptual creation we forget that the map is not the territory. Another U&R source is we choose our icons poorly – they really are not a useful representation of our issue.

Think Phrasal: How we label our important thoughts, ideas, values etc. are important. Clarity around meaning (literally and symbolically) is critical for clarity and necessary precision.

Precision is often an overlooked attribute, I have noticed that we seem to put a premium on ambiguity flexibility in concept meaning. There are circumstances where deliberate malleability in meaning has value (e.g., often in social circumstances where we can always claim we were/were not misconstrued) Yet there are other times we are better served with specificity in meaning. I have argued that the whole subject of U&R is one of conceptual and meaning ambiguity. Notably, we use the term Risk to cover any unknown situation (which is the basic notion underpinning uncertainty).

The more important the issue, the more important I argue that we have clarity around meaning regarding it’s important concepts, theories, terms, etc.

Think Casual (Actually – appropriatelymy addendum): How we behave while we are dealing with an issue is an often overlooked consideration. Apparently Steve Jobs preferred a more casual behavioural context. Yet, I think that there are times when it is more useful to be serious, analytical, deliberate, jocular, etc. Consider for a moment, we are at a memorial service and we choose to act as “goof balls”. Some at the service may be okay with this, but I think we will offend many others by our behaviour.

Many of us have deliberate habits we use when we want to achieve something. Using structure behaviour can literally “put us in the mood”.

The U&R is of course we choose inappropriate behavours, these will create issues for us personally but also with others who matter to us in the situation we are dealing with.

Think Human: The ultimate act of “objectification” of others is to think that they think, act, care, are motivated, etc. like you are. What happens when we do this? We look at what we want from our needs and interests and are oblivious to how these mirror the audience’s. By confusing our perspectives for others we are introducing mega-amounts of U&R into our lives. This is totally a self induced form of addition of U&R. Where it gets really muddy, is we are likely to be partly correct in that what we care about is also of importance to others. But it is the differences that can really matter, even in what we share, as it often the relationships between values and ideas that really matters (e.g., We may both abhor the the thought and act of killing someone else, yet as a pacifist I  may be prepared to die for my value, you may choose to defend yourself).

A salesperson (that’s all of us most of the time) who dwells on the features and attributes of the product/service/idea they are offering to a customer/client is only talking about what interests themselves. Customers care about such things as: “Why should I buy this?”, “How does this improve my life?”, etc. One of accolades given to Apple’s marketing is it pays a lot of attention on how people’s lives are better off from use of its products. This is an ultimate show of respect for another person – how what you wants makes a positive difference in their life.

Think Sceptical: For Steve Jobs this was apparently about trusting experts. For purposes of this discussion it is about knowing that what you or anyone believes is true is merely a theory. A theory is not likely to be the truth. a great theory, is virtually indistinguishable from the truth because we can’t seem to falsify it. Why falsifiability? It is through showing an idea’s limits that we learn that it is not complete, does not explain everything it had hoped to, suggests that we should find a better idea, etc.

This approach as a habit, is often really hard when we are successful with an idea. I always suggest to a client (includes myself as a client) to identify: “What would we start to observe that would suggest our idea merely pedestrian, not so great after all?”

I am suggesting that we are serious about dealing with the U&R in our choices about how we look at the world by being sceptical about those choices being the truth.

Think War: Probably the most troubling of notions here. At the core of this principle is the issue of how will we respond when we encounter something that is counter perhaps even inimical to an important perspective we hold dear. The U&R this raises is primarily one of doubt and even intolerance. Doubt that we are holding a valid/fully useful notion. Intolerance, in that if that (the offending notion) is possible what does this say about ourself. Maybe I terribly wrong. Maybe I cannot tolerate the continuing existence of the offending notion.

In the area of values, I tend to believe we are faced with abandoning our value, attempting to isolate the impacts of the contrary value on our lives, or responding to it with our sense of appropriate resistance. The act of being passive, I would suggest is a form of abandonment. It leaves the conflict unresolved – we just choose to ignore it (while being aware that something remains unresolved, creating questions about what it is we continue to believe in).

Another strategy is of course is to borrow the practice from the principle above. To look upon this contrary view as a form of opportunity to grow our views of the world.  Can we expand our notion to even include the facing dilemma?

In the area of ideas, U&R often shows up as an evident contradiction to what we believe. Only by growing our ideas about the world (i.e.,in someway embracing the contradiction) can we become with it (actually them  with: the contradiction, others who hold/espouse the contradiction, and ourselves and our knowing we have a dilemma in our world views).







About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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