Worse than a crap shoot

I have become more convinced that success depends less on good initial decisions and more on the ability and willingness to kill off bad ones. You just cannot predict with much precision. It doesn’t mean that you don’t plan, but it does mean that you plan to eliminate many of your endeavors and to modify all of them based on evolving conditions and new information.

This posture makes most of us uncomfortable. We like to believe there is more certainty in this uncertain world. We like to believe that experts, sufficiently intelligent and disinterested, could make big plans that would work. All of the big dystopias of the 20th Century were based on this error, as well as most of the little ones.

Uncertainty cannot ever be banished. The reason the free market works better than the alternatives is not that it can plan better but because it can through up lots of plans and trim off those that don’t work. Our world cannot be perfected. We should not try to do it.

This does not mean that we are helplessly adrift in a sea of uncertainty. We can create robust systems that will function and survive in a wide variety of possible scenarios and will prosper in thrive among the probable ones. We never really have a choice between two alternatives. We have a multiverse of choices, all of which change in fundamental ways based on our choices. It is a process not a plan, or maybe the plan is the process.

When my father wanted to express uncertainty, he would use the term “it’s a crap shoot,” referring of course to the game of playing dice. I only wish it was that easy. Dice are very certain. There are only thirty-six possible combinations and the probabilities of each are well known. You are six times more likely to roll as seven as you are to roll snake eyes (two ones) or box cars (two sixes). Risk is predictable. If you can find someone dumb enough to keep on betting that he will roll box cars before a seven, you will take all his money sooner or later, probably sooner. Unfortunately the world is not that certain so we have to have lots of options.