Managing uncertainty is something our brain loves to do. And it loves even more to be helped.
At macro-macro-level, Theories-Of-Everything do the trick. Very elegantly, Nobel Prize (Medicine) Jacques Monod (1910 – 1976), whose Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology made a significant impact on me as a young doctor in my 20s, described as ‘mythical ontogenies’ those that explain everything from religious beliefs to Theory of Man.
But, on a small scale, we can see this in every little piece of uncertainty in daily life: the difference a little decrease of that uncertainty can make is not to be ignored. Behavioural Economics, to its credit, understands this very well and creates ‘nudges’ that can, in their own simplicity, travel a million miles between the certainty and uncertainty territory, and, in doing so, decrease our anxiety and tell the brain, it’s ok, relax, it’s not that dark out there.
Here are some examples
From you are in a queue, to you are number 6 in the queue and going down
From flight delayed, to flight delayed by 45 minutes; new update in 10
From queue here, to 15 mins from here to the Immigration Officer
From waiting for the doctors (no info), to you’ll see the doctor between 10 and 11
From maybe three months, to something no later than three months
From open possibilities, to there are 3 options
From questions in a survey, to you are half way through the survey
From we will continue tomorrow, to this is what will happen tomorrow
Each second part alternative contains that little extra piece of info that tells the brain to stop worrying.
We could construct an entire management system on those basis. The zero cost question is, how can I decrease uncertainty by 10-20-50%? Perhaps 100%, because how much you need that delta reduction and how much I need it, may be very different. In other words, the anti-anxiety effect is not linear, the difference between ‘from flight delayed, to flight delayed by 45 minutes; new update in 10’ may be for me the 100% difference between complete panicking and redirecting my attention to key things with zero anxiety.
In fact, I would go further and say that, delta reduction is far more effective than a full blown ‘I have all the data’. Uncertainty avoidance (a feature described as characteristic of some national cultures) does not require full avoidance, just a dose of decreasing, that magic delta. The pursuit of total uncertainty avoidance is futile. Unless of course you want to use the management equivalent of Monod’s mythical ontogenies (I have an answer for everything, what is the question?): these are all the answers, these are all the Gantt charts, this is what reality will look like on Wednesday 27 in the afternoon. A management practice that comes well below the weather forecast in efficacy. But could also be very effective even if wrong.