Monday, November 21, 2016

Uncertainty vs. Ambiguity

I wrote an article for an internal organizational newsletter recently about ambiguity and decision making in the context of project management ("Ambiguity, Decision Making and Program/Project Management," pgs. 22-24, The Critical Path, Winter 2016).  The impetus for the article had nothing to do with current political issues, but now it keeps coming back to mind.  The point I was trying to make in that article is that our aversion to ambiguity makes us dismiss ambiguity rather than force us to tackle it with critical thinking.  It's a cognitive bias we need to be more aware of.

People keep saying that we don't like uncertainty, but what they mean to say is that we don't like ambiguity.  What we are facing with the Trump transition are conditions that resemble ambiguity rather than uncertainty. Uncertainty can be characterized by known risks and probabilities associated with those risks being realized. Ambiguity is characterized by unknown risks and an inability to come up with the probability of various outcomes being realized. When faced with known risks and probabilities, we have risk management analytical tools that allow us to assess the risks and deploy various strategies to address them.  With ambiguity, we tend to hide our heads in the sand, which is never a good idea.  Ignoring a challenge because we don't know how to address it doesn't make it go away.

Regardless of our individual political affiliations, we need to acknowledge that what we are facing is an ambiguous situation rather than an uncertain situation.  Critical thinking skills will be at a premium.  Sharpen your minds!

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