Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Puzzles and Mysteries

Maybe you haven't thought about it a lot, but there are interesting ideas that surround the differences between the idea of a puzzle and its solution, and a mystery and how to unravel it. As one interested in risk management, the puzzle vs the mystery is part and parcel to the spectrum of variation that stretches to recognizable risks and then beyond to unknowable uncertainty.

Of course, a puzzle follows rules that are not be violated. Because there are rules, there can be strategy for the solution and these strategies can all but be templated. And, there is a complete solution. First viewed as a bunch of dots, a puzzle really is a narrative, and once the narrative is discovered, many of the dots fall rapidly into place. Making a narrative out of dots is a key skill in the risk management business. The full effect of the dots is not knowable until the narrative is evident.

Mysteries, on the other hand, have a deeply obscure narrative. Usually many of the dots are missing and may never be recovered. In fact, from a few dots, the mystery detective [read: risk manager looking way forward] synthesizes a narrative, poses a hypothesis or theory of the event, and even so, a decision is likely to be made with only partial information, conflicting information [or seemingly so] ignorance of the true narrative, and therefore ignorance of the likely outcomes.

Those accustomed to puzzles may not fair well in the ambiguity and unresolved confusion of mysteries. Not everyone can be Holmes!

For more on mysteries and puzzles, check out Malcom Gladwell's 2009 book: "What the dog saw: and other adventures"