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What is the relationship between uncertainty and success?

this guy is walking on a flaming ropeIt seems to me that a certain amount of uncertainity is necessary to be successful (however you define it) - that there is an element of the unknown when trying new things. Then again, there is also low-risk success. Thoughts?

Reader Comments (9)

Season's greetings, Matt! Not sure about the topic;uncertainty pervades everything that we encounter. Just managing it is enough of a task.
January 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjp in maryland
Well, I think nothing's possible without some risk. You've to enjoy taking the risks and learn from mistakes. Casual risk taking is what makes you most productive.
January 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJaky Astik
Thanks, Jake and JP. I like the expression "Casual risk taking," by the way.
January 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
"Keep your leadership journey open-ended, do not set your sights too low, and strive to be better tomorrow than you are today, and the future will take care of itself." The People Pill, Ken Wright, p183.

Life/success has brought me to a point where I am no longer concerned about taking risks, per se, but rather, I stick with the disciplines that have proven successful over the long haul. Will such disciplines result in success every time (read uncertainty)? No. But experience and knowing people, leadership disciplines, and character provide confidence in outcomes that are, for the most part, unknown. That, and if we go through the motions long enough and nothing happens, it's time to change direction. :-)
January 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark
[email to me from Michael N]

(however you define it) --- What if you define them both as emotions. Success can only exist with absolute certainty. You cannot be successful until all risk is gone. What if you define risk emotionally. Then it need not be present because you can remove it immediately, whenever you wish. What if you only had absolute faith? What if you changed the meaning around what you were risking until what you were risking were of lessened value? How would all of this change a persons ability (or even need) to act?

January 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
@Mark: *Very* nicely put. I like your experimental attitude (naturally). I suspect those disciplines you apply were themselves learned through enlightened trial and error, which I also appreciate because you've found something repeatable to guide you. That's what I'm working to do with TTL. Experience, knowing people, etc: That is the hard-won wisdom earned through doing stuff and learning from it. Good show, Mark. Thanks for sharing!

@Michael N: Uncertainty and Success as emotions. Great perspective! Thoughts:

> You cannot be successful until all risk is gone

Wow! That's provocative, Michael. I disagree, though. How many times have you heard of a "gamble that paid off"? I wonder if the safe bets are not typically innovative.

> absolute faith

I'm glad you brought this up, because I've been thining about the role of faith (absolute or blind) and experimentation. If one is a true believer, then that person doesn't need evidence, right? Isn't that the definition of faith? I believe that washing my hands kills germs and keeps me healthier. Have I evidence for this? No, because I haven't tested it myself. But I have confidence in my faith because there is science to back it up. But if I believe in an afterlife, something that can't be tested, then that's faith. I have confidence in something someone told me, and that does not have empirical evidence. Not only that, depending on how fundamentalist a person is, he/she might not be able to even *entertain* facts that contradict their faith. Otherwise a crisis could happen, and that's uncomfortable because it requires a big change in mindset, and is a threat to self-image. And that might indeed change one's ability to act.

If I sound passionate it might be because my family watched Inherit the Wind last night - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053946/ which, unfortunately, is still more relevant than ever.

So. Is faith the enemy of reason? Hell if I know!

Thanks very much for sharing.
January 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
Yes and no. What I mean is, there is a benefit to wise risk taking, but it might not be the benefit you were aiming for. But one shouldn't be always risky for the sake of being risky. It's a balance... I like to call it "mindful rebellion", where you analyze the situation and decide whether to take a risk or not based on your experience, your experiments, others' experiments, what you desire as an outcome, etc. There's always uncertainty. I wonder why people don't think of "doing things by the book" as also risky.
January 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen
[follow up email to me from Michael N]

<Michael> You cannot be successful until all risk is gone
<Matthew> Wow! That's provocative, Michael. I disagree, though. How many times have you heard of a "gamble that paid off"? I wonder if the safe bets are not typically innovative.

<Michael Response> Every task necessary for the success of a project (known or unknown) has risk associated with it (the risk of death of the doer if nothing else). When success is achieved (even by redefinition) then there are no more tasks. We must be talking about two different things since to me there must have been risk and action in order for something to pay off and success achieved. Nonetheless I was speaking of the emotion not the doing which reflects the emotion.

<Michael> absolute faith
<Matthew> I'm glad you brought this up, because I've been thining about the role of faith (absolute or blind) and experimentation...

<Michael Response> Having confidence in faith is being confident. Being faith is something else. What is it like to have faith in confidence, or faith in faith? To define faith in words constrains it to a thought process. The intellect can then play with it but only as a concept to be injected into a process (making it smaller than the process). But at the emotional level faith is bigger than the process and includes in it the process ultimately shaping it based on the underlying desire. Of course looking at the effects of the idea of faith and being absolute faith are two different things altogether. The underlying motivation to prove faith is self-doubt and the two cannot co-exist.

Further at the emotional level one does not create faith in the idea that washing my hands kills germs and keeps me healthier. That idea is a constraint on consciousness that would not come from the soul, from that place where you tap into faith.

In pure faith there is no self-image.

<Matthew> ... Is faith the enemy of reason?

<Michael Response> So is the ability to reason the enemy of faith?
January 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
Michael, at this point my having neither a divinity school degree nor classical schooling is no doubt holding me back, but what the hell, I'll take a stab at answering your question, Is the ability to reason the enemy of faith?

Let's start with a definition of faith: "complete trust or confidence in someone or something." As an atheist I'm biased, of course, and as an amateur thinker about religion, I'm doubly biased (against, sorry), so I'll rephrase the question to be "What is the role of faith in rational thought?" Looking at the definition, I certainly qualify as having faith in things, such as faith in my wife's ability to parent, or faith in the utility of the scientific method in understanding the world. But I also actively question my beliefs, recognizing that I have them, and knowing that the underlying models are unproven and possibly (probably) suspect.

If we turn the definition of faith around to think of it as the absence of doubt, then I'd definitely have a problem with it; being without doubt - isn't that an enemy of reason? If we don't have doubt, then aren't we assuming perfection, or at least the lack of a need to question something? In my worldview, nothing is beyond being questioned. It's the trial-by-fire process that cleanses ideas until they shine, or are replaced by better ones. It acknowledges that ideas should stand on their own merits and not be bald viral memes that spread simply because they are contagious. I might not like a pet idea being questioned, but I won't react with anger or violence, as the fictitious people do in the movie, "Inherit the Wind." Or by, as a dear friend experienced, being slapped in the face for questioning her religious training.

In religions, "Have faith" doesn't mean to not have doubt, I'm sure, but ideally (I suspect) the successful resolution of doubt is a renewed faith. This is opposed to my perspective that the successful resolution of doubt is a deeper understanding, which may lead to tossing or changing the idea.

Anyone? I'd like to know the classical philosophical thinking on the topic.
January 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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