The other day, I saw this image on Pinterest, which caught my attention. The image outlines four ways of understanding a tomato and depicts it accordingly:
- Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
- Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.
- Philosophy is wondering whether that makes ketchup a smoothie.
- Common sense is knowing that ketchup is not a smoothie.
In a nutshell, this depiction tells us that there are levels to utilizing and understanding knowledge, and that there is value to be found if we look beyond the initial piece of information.
I have previously written some pieces on the applications of uncertainty and how leveraging uncertainty can generate value for anyone that chooses to act on it. And when I say value, I mean value in the sense of getting a deeper understanding of the decisions you’re about to make. The classic expression ”looks can be deceiving” fits perfectly here, as a deeper understanding of something rarely stops at just looking at the surface.
Uncertainty will not provide you with an absolute number, but instead, you will receive an understanding of the likelihood of meeting a specific goal. However, to understand the deeper value of uncertainty, you need to understand the spread of uncertainty. A common mistake when leveraging uncertainty is assigning a single probability to a specific goal. The problem with that is that you are labeling a specific value with a probability. But if you, for example, label a goal with a probability of occurring at 30%, what do the remaining 70% represent? Does it mean that you will be above or below your goal, and how likely is it to go either way? Knowing these outcomes may very well be a make-or-break situation when the stakes are high.
An Example of What I Mean
To generate value from uncertainty, you need to map out the whole spectra of possibilities. Probability consists of 100% percent, so let’s use every single % to our advantage and fully understand the nature of the decision we’re about to make.
For you to fully understand the merits of analyzing the whole spectra of possible outcomes, instead of just the probability of success, let’s look at the graphs below*:
The first graph illustrates the expected time of completion for three separate projects. For simplicity, all three projects have a 40% probability of meeting their expected completion time. Hence, if time is of high value when choosing which project to pursue, Project 3 (P3) is a clear choice. However, what happens when we evaluate the remaining probability and visualize the uncertainty spread?
As we can see in the second graph, Project 3 still holds a probability for the earliest project completion, but it also demonstrates a probability for completion after Project 2, or even after the majority of the likelihood of occurrence for Project 1, for that matter. As such, while at first glance Project 3 appears to be the obvious choice, Project 3 holds the widest spread, while, for example, Project 2 has less spread to the potential outcomes.
By examining the remaining probabilities and mapping out the whole spectra of your 100%, we can now see the whole picture and understand the meaning of the remaining probabilities that we don’t assign to our goal, providing us with more information to base our decision on. Our final decision may still be the same; however, the difference here is that your decision was now made with more in-depth knowledge and a significantly lowered risk for misinterpretations of the information.
This article started by talking about tomatoes and then took a turn to talk about uncertainty. But what do they have in common?
Overall, I wanted to demonstrate that knowledge is not black and white, or should I say, the application of knowledge. If it were, tomatoes would be a welcome addition to any fruit salad. To that, I say yuck! Understanding that there are levels to knowledge is important, and what might initially appear a good idea, may be misleading. Looking closer at the different levels of knowledge will, most of the time, help us make better decisions. And, hopefully, save us from a genuinely disgusting ketchup ”smoothie”!
Are you more curious about the subject? Reach out and have a chat!
*Original graph design by Mikael Palmblad.
Imange source: https://br.pinterest.com/pin/793126184369351462/