Part 3: A Parable about Uncertainty and Risk – Playing with a visual Metaphor


In part 2 ( I introduced and explored the notion that what we get out of our experiences is less than what we actually experience. To reflect what we ‘actually get out of our experiences I introduced the notion of Learned From Experience (LFE).

In this post I will continue the exploration using the visual metaphor:

U&r Theme LFE_NEW

The focus will be on the notion of depth in our experiences. One of the key needs in my thinking on uncertainty and risk (U&r) is the the dynamic nature of it. The notion of flows, fluctuations, changes, and time are critical to consider and incorporate if we are to get and hold a robust views on U&r. The visual above reflects the dynamics of time and lateral like flows. I want to consider the implications of a third dimension (depth) in a dynamic model/metaphor view.

I will do this with the following graphic:

U&r Exp Layers 1

Our experiences are nuanced in many ways, and I want to keep these in mind as we proceed with this thinking effort. How are some of the ways we experience things?

  • Whether we are on solid ground or footing or not and what are the perceived characteristics of that.
  • Whether we are in social settings or not and what is going on and how that is impacting our experiences.
  • Our mental and emotional state and how this is affecting what we are aware of and what it means to us.
  • What we have learned or come to believe about circumstances like we are experiencing.
  • Is it the experience a surprise or a continuation of a sequence of prior experiences and the context this places on what we take meaning from what we are dealing with now.
  • What sense of what will happen next and our expectations about this. We often take differing meaning based on whether we are at the beginning, middle, or end of some sequence of experiences. This sense of history is key to whether we are having a “U” or “r” like event.
  • etc.

If the first graphic is about time and place, this second one is all about what is going on in the “now”. For me this graphic reflects in a modest way why you and i can be in the same “now” but having quite different experiences about that, especially in the LFE of it. We did not exactly arrive here and now in exactly the same way. We will observe, take meaning and significance quite uniquely b because of who we are and all that entails of our pasts and anticipated futures. Throw into the mix we can have very different capabilities in what we notice and how well we can interpret them. I may be very unaware of the social aspects of what is going on and you may be very astute. Hence your LFE will be very much richer for these talent differences.

This graphic also leads us to consider what makes things complex. The notion of layers suggests to me that many under the surface activities can be at play. Think of a situation at work where it is absolutely critic that you focus on the task at hand. Yet you have a sick child at home and you have not heard what the doctor said (family layer). And, you are tired because you did not sleep well last night (personal health layer) And, you have a keen interest in your condo board’s ruling on the new roofing proposal (close social layer). And, you know some of your work colleagues will have serious concerns about what you will be recommending in your task report (work setting layer). And, you are concerned that Kinder Morgan is proposing to locate a new pipeline adjacent to your property (industry/economic layer). And, so on. How all these and perhaps other concerns all add some form of complexity to your work. If any two of us were experiencing the exact same issues, we would still be reacting and living with them is unique individual along with common ways.

The power of LFE is the role it plays in making sense of our world. It establishes for us significance and meaning. Significance and meaning are instrumental in determining how we will respond to same, similar, somewhat analogous, or even suggestive akin future situations. In my parlance I consider these our “working” theories of how the world works and what it means to.

BUT, there is a dark side to LFE: forgetfulness.

What we do not see as significant we will in all likelihood not bother to remember (why would we want to?). Yet what we forgot today and yesterday may be of vital use to us in the future. Memory is about not concerning ourselves with aspects of of what we have experienced. This is why LFE is always smaller than what we actually experience.

Another dark side to LFE: discounting as important.

Not quite the same as forgetfulness is the act of diminishing the importance of observed and aware of information. How do many of us respond to “outliers” in our lives? We discount them as being anomalies and extraneous to what we should bother to pay attention to.

The issue of discounting is often the result of the fact that our environments are so complex: we can only keep so much in our active processing minds at any one time. So one way we focus is to discount at any one time things that do not appear particularly germane or relevant.

Whetter we focus on some things to the exclusion of others, we know that many of those we things we set aside have a connection to what we are doing (even if it is secondary). For example, being tired may be set aside while we work to meet a critical work deadline. Tiredness, may have an impact on our work quality and speed, yet we choose to ignore it for obvious reasons.

Complexity is simply present in our lives, especially so when there are social based layers/matters involved, and, this leads to having uncertainty in our lives too. In fact, I conclude that most uncertainty in our lives is caused by social based complexities.

How do we deal with complexity when trying to live (either survive or even thrive)? We make use of our ability to see and form patterns (I am grateful for FG. Hayek, for making me aware of this). Much LFE is directed at creating, building, nurturing, questioning, reformulating patterns in our minds. Patterns are like rules of thumb (“when seeing a fork in the road, keep the knife”), crude theories and hypotheses (“blondes have more fun”), sometimes even sophisticated ones (“Someone who holds these [listed] values will vote social democrat”), some will be science based and others may be nothing more than bigot like biases.

We use patterns to make sense of our past, ongoing experiences, and even use them to make decisions going forward. Patterns allow us to simplify and to even embrace greater amounts of complexity in our thinking, judging, acting and evaluating. They have remarkable power when useful they reduce uncertainty for us.

But what if a pattern is not or no longer useful? As long as we continue to hold onto it we are increasing our exposure to uncertainty, perhaps even increasing it.

A non-useful pattern can have the following consequences:

  • Does not add anything useful at all, so it is irrelevant.
  • Distracting by getting us to pay attention what isn’t relevant or meaningful, so it wastes attention and energy.
  • Misdirecting, gets to pay attention to things and possibilities that turn out to be unhelpful, hence are time wasters and this can be important in specific situations.
  • Dangerous, exposes us to perils that we would be exposed to if we held a more useful pattern.

Patterns aren’t about truth, they are about making sense of things. We can obviously hold a false pattern. One can go further, outside of faith (which is about perceived truths regardless of any evidence) all beliefs (about patterns) are conjectures, even science based ones. Even logic, which concludes that something is true/false always has the “back door” of assuming that the assumptions are true (which they may or may not be).

So with the introduction of patterns, we see the other door for uncertainty to enter into our lives: their inappropriateness in use (using a useful pattern in a non-appropriate context) or inappropriate pattern to begin with. BUT, BUT, what about appropriate patterns in appropriate contexts? Yes uncertainty will creep in too: the dynamics of the passage of time and flows means the specifically exact becomes the generally applicable to it even becoming incorrect in significant ways.

So my parable for Part 3 is:

  • The wise person knows that they can be wrong.
  • The honourable person will recognize this error when they become aware of it and correct it.
  • The honest person will acknowledge this publicly when called on it.

Part 4 will do some further synthesis on what this approach to seeing how living brings uncertainty into our lives and gives further thoughts on what we can do to live successfully.


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.
This entry was posted in Creativity, Decison Making, Performance Management, Risk & Uncertainty, Strategy, Values. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s