Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Making difficult decisions in a complicated, uncertain world

Everything I've experienced in life suggests to me that the key to the future is a decision-making approach that begins with the proposition that there are no provable certainties. That is the view of modern science and much of modern philosophy. And, this view that there are no absolute or certain answers— quickly leads to recognizing that all significant issues are inherently complex and uncertain and, as a consequence, that all decisions are about probabilities and trade-offs. That, in turn, should lead to restlessly seeking to better understand whatever is before you in order to most effectively refine your judgments about those probabilities and trade-offs.

Once you recognize uncertainty and complexity, you approach new questions or for that matter, new experiences, such as, in my life, a new job or moving from the private sector to government not with answers or a sense of certainty, but rather with a sense of inquiry and searching and the pursuit of understanding.

This is from Robert Rubin's June 11 commencement address (its good and its short so read the whole thing) at the University of Washington. Rubin was U.S. treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999 and wrote the excellent book In an Uncertain World. I love his probabilistic way of thinking that he outlines.

I agree with it so much, I really think high school should teach advanced statistics and probability rather than calculus. I can't think of the last day that I actually used calculus and I can't think of the last day I didn't use some form of probability.

This Scientific American article continues on this theme, looking at how to make a decision will be good in most environments rather than trying to make a decision that will be best for a particular environment, when there is uncertainty regarding the future environment.

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