The Fallacy of Eliminating Uncertainty
It’s March Madness and thousands of people fill out their brackets, attempting to predict who will win the championship. Some people dive deep, spending tons of hours on research, examining records, players, and stats. Others even go to the extent of creating statistical models to mathematically predict the outcome. Yet consistently after the first two rounds, most brackets busted.
In 2019 for example, there were just 10 perfect brackets remaining before the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament even began. In the 2019 ESPN Tournament Challenge, there were even fewer, with only nine flawless basketball tournament brackets after the initial round of March Madness in 2019. Why? We have such a huge amount of data and computing power at our fingertips — why wouldn’t there be a better level of accuracy? Because people are involved.
Regrettably, data can’t predict the future. All those March Madness stats and numbers can’t account for all of the variables that occur when humans are part of the equation. Maybe a great point guard has a headache. Maybe the center had a fight with their parents the night before. Maybe the power forward has some self-doubt that day. It’s impossible to predict perfectly, but just like in business, we try to anyway.
It is important to understand what’s happened in the past, but the past is just that. It cannot accurately predict the future, which is what every company is trying to de-risk. So we turn to data to give us these answers. Lengthy projections, spreadsheets, research, and numbers are all designed to give us a sense of comfort about what will happen in the next 6, 12, and 24 months. But the variable that data can’t account for is human behavior.
This applies to customer research as well, where we ask customers what they want, need, and what they’ll do in the future. But humans don’t know. Asking my intent is very different from the actions I’ll actually take the next day. And no one can predict that with 100% certainty. So managing and dealing with uncertainty is what separates average leaders from great leaders. Great leaders understand that no matter the amount of data at their disposal, their understanding of the abstract is much more critical to creating great outcomes.
This means building and honing the skill of understanding context — connecting and relating seemingly unparallel circumstances together to create a new, creative approach to growth. It’s shifting from a literal mindset — believing what has been done at other companies in the same industry is the black-and-white path to success — to a contextual one, drawing together disparate ideas, approaches, and concepts from across various industries, applications, and environments. So instead of asking “Does this apply to my challenge?”, ask “How might it apply to my challenge?”
You might be surprised by what you find. You won’t be able to eliminate all uncertainty, but you will be more confident in your decisions.
About the Author
Andrea’s 24-year, field-tested background provides practical, behavioral science approaches to creating differentiated, human-focused organizations. A 4x ADDY award-winner, TEDx presenter, and 3x book author, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic sales, marketing, and customer engagement efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. She now leads a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations differentiate their brands using behavioral science. In addition to writing and consulting, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world. Connect with Andrea to access information on her book, keynoting, research, or consulting. More information is also available on www.pragmadik.com or www.andreabelkolson.com. after the initial round of March Madness in 2019. Why? We have such a huge amount of data and computing power at our fingertips — why wouldn’t there be a better level of accuracy? Because people are involved.
While not all ideas and observations will be applicable, they will provide a new way to reduce risk to a strategy. A contextual mindset helps you avoid the tunnel vision which comes with simply “looking at the data”. It provides a broader view to see beyond the here and now, to what is possible. How does this eliminate uncertainty? It can’t fully. But it can reduce risk by providing you the ability to see and understand your challenge in a different way, and therefore opening up new perspectives on how to assess the context — including how humans may behave and act in the future.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.