Sunday, April 12, 2015

Uncertainty revisited (again, and again)

How many ways can you spell uncertainty? More than you might imagine. Here are a couple more for the project dictionary from eight2late:
I don't know what I don't know, a.k.a. "State space uncertainty'
The standard view of uncertainty assumes that all possible states are given as a part of the problem definition ...   In real life, however, this is often not the case.

Bradley and Drechsler identify two distinct cases of state space uncertainty. The first one is when we are unaware that we’re missing states and/or consequences. For example, organisations that embark on a restructuring program are so focused on the cost-related consequences that they may overlook factors such as loss of morale and/or loss of talent (and the consequent loss of productivity).

The second, somewhat rarer, case is when we are aware that we might be missing something but we don’t quite know what it is. All one can do here, is make appropriate contingency plans based on  guesses regarding possible consequences.

Did this cause that!?, a.k.a Option uncertainty
The standard approach to tackling uncertainty assumes that the connection between actions and consequences is well defined. This is often not the case, particularly for wicked problems. 

For example, as I have discussed in this post, enterprise transformation programs with well-defined and articulated objectives often end up having a host of unintended consequences. At an even more basic level, in some situations it can be difficult to identify sensible options.

I can't make up my mind, a.k.a Preference uncertainty
An implicit assumption .... is once states and consequences are known, people will be able to figure out their relative preferences for these unambiguously. This assumption is incorrect, as there are at least two situations in which people will not be able to determine their preferences.

Firstly, there may be  a lack of factual information about one or more of the states. Secondly, even when one is able to get the required facts, it is hard to figure out how we would value the consequences.

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