Scott’s Thoughts: Imperfect Information

“He liked to go from A to B without inventing letters between.”

-John McPhee (b. March 8, 1931) American writer

Seldom in this life do we act with perfect knowledge. In our work and personal relationships we must constantly contend with uncertainty. The sooner we learn to accept the notion of “ideal conditions” is a myth, the sooner we are able to act on our desires and form valuable, enduring connections with others.

There are different strategies for dealing with imperfect information. Avoiding decision paralysis has to do with your disposition, attitude towards risk, and willingness to accept shifting conditions. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always the best idea, however. In fact, I’d like to suggest there are two major approaches to dealing with imperfect information: Situational and interpersonal.

The situational approach has to do with acting on plans without enough data. Even after you’ve done your best research, you will often find yourself missing what may seem like vital information to make you feel safe with your decision. In these cases, the best you can do is proceed with the best information you have available. You should, however, be prepared to pivot. Pivoting is common in technology startups when early results dictate a major change in strategy. Act, but do not be afraid to change your actions as the information dictates.

The interpersonal approach is somewhat different. This is when you have imperfect information about a person’s intent. We can never truly know what’s in the hearts and minds of those around us. Even when they tell us, we may harbor doubts. Sometimes we are paralyzed with resentment when we try to interpret the intent behind someone’s comments or behavior. When facing this form of imperfect information, it can often be most productive to proceed as if they have the best intentions at heart. You may not be certain, but you can be certain that resentment and mistrust will undermine your best efforts.

Whether situational or interpersonal, practice acting in the face of imperfect information. Learning to live with ambiguity is essential to our productivity and happiness.

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