Uncertainty is stubborn

We need to validate what we do and don’t know as quickly as we can.

In complex environments, such as product development, uncertainty predominates and increases with the time horizon of our decisions and undertakings.

In our experience, effectiveness is directly related to well product developers addresses and validate key assumptions. And where in-effectiveness is found, ignored assumptions are abundant.

Exhibit A: The assumption that we know what we really want: We may have an inkling, perhaps even a concept and expectations we can describe. But for novel or highly complex problems, these are rarely adequate.

Why? Bounded rationality. The knowledge of the problem we seek to solve, as well as any solution they may preconceive, is highly constrained, nearly always to what is familiar or conventional. This mindset limitation is at the root of Henry Ford’s observation that “if I’d asked customers what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.”

Other common assumptions that contribute to unjustified confidence in decisions include

• We know where the largest payoffs reside.
• We fully understand the problem.
• We have identified the best solution.
• We have all the skills and knowledge to build the best solution.
• We can predict the effort needed to create a solution.

So in uncertain condition it is unrealistic for anyone to know these things at the beginning of an initiative, not to mention that assuming that nothing changes along the way, which borders nonsense.

So where does this leave us? Uncertainty is pervasive. And uncertainty is stubborn. Whatever our decisions and actions, it persists.

Consider

We need to validate what we do and don’t know as quickly as we can. The real relevant questions to be posed again and again are “how might we learn?” and “how fast?”

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