To shield ourselves from uncertainty, we take refuge in our analyses. We create intricate computer wizardry to calm our soles. We tell ourselves our analytic powers can stand toe-to-toe with uncertainty. Though too afraid to admit, at the deepest level we know the magic of our analytics can’t dispatch uncertainty. Like He-Who-Should-Not-Should-Be-Named, uncertainty is ever-present and all-powerful. And he last thing we want is to call it by name.
Our best feint is to kill uncertainty before it festers. As soon as uncertainty is birthed, we try slay it with our guttural chant “It won’t work, it won’t work, it won’t work”. Like Dementors, we drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around a new idea. We suck out every good feeling and reduce it to something like itself, but soulless. We feed on it until we’re left with nothing but the worst of the idea.1
Insidiously, we conjure premonitions of mythical problems and predict off-axis maladies. And then we cast hexes on innovators when they don’t have answers to our irrelevant quandaries.
But our unnatural bias against uncertainty is misplaced. Without uncertainty there is no learning. Luckily, there are contrivances to battle the dark art of uncertainty.
When the engineering warlocks start their magic, ask them to be specific about their premonitions. Demand they define the problem narrowly – between two elements of the best embodiment; demand they describe the physical mechanisms behind the problem (warlocks are no match for physics); demand they define the problem narrowly in time – when the system spools up, when it slows down, just before it gets hot, right after it cools down. What the warlocks quickly learn is the problem is not the uncertainty around the new idea; the problem is the uncertainty of their knowledge. After several clashes with the talisman of physics, they take off their funny pointy hats, put away their wands, and start contributing in a constructive way. They’re now in the right frame of mind to obsolete their best work
Uncertainty is not bad. Denying it exists is bad, and pretending we can eliminate it is bad. It’s time to demonstrate Potter-like behavior and name what others dare not name.
Uncertainty, Uncertainty, Uncertainty.
image credit: wikipedia
Dr. Mike Shipulski brings together the best of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, Axiomatic Design, TRIZ, and lean to develop innovative products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.