Embrace Uncertainty

creepy illustration of embracing uncertainty

It’s human nature to hide uncertainty, but fight that instinct! I’m impressed when I meet someone who admits they don’t know about a topic. It shows maturity and self confidence. I’ll qualify that a little. I’m impressed if they also show curiosity about the right answer, make intelligent guesses and admit that they are guesses, or think of ways to discover the right answer.

This frequently comes up in job interviews. I ask progressively harder questions, not to make the applicant feel dumb, but to see whether they will be honest when we reach a topic they aren’t familiar with. Pretending that a guess is knowledge (a.k.a. bullshitting) might work at slack companies, but do you want to work for a slack company? If the applicant admits they don’t know the answer, but offers some ways to figure it out or makes good guesses (and admits they are guesses) then I am often just as happy as if they knew the answer.

Apply this principle even when no one is looking. Don’t kid yourself that you know something when you are just guessing. You will be much more successful if you go find the actual answer.

Don’t let uncertainty make you stop asking questions. Ask constantly, especially when you get a new tool for gathering data. Just be critical. Examine data from multiple angles to be sure it makes sense before you declare that you have an answer.

This is the essence of science. You admit you don’t know something, then go try things until you figure it out. And let me tell you, science works! The internet, airplane, and penicillin weren’t created by bullshitters.

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About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.