The Uncertainty Mindset 2019-2020

A newsletter project by Vaughn Tan (book | homepage | Twitter | Instagram).

If you've arrived here from an external site and want to know what's going on—or if you've become disoriented in this garden of forking paths—you can always go to the index page, the topic list, or the issue list.

Feel free to get in touch (especially if you find a broken link) or sign up for the newsletter.

#9: Tradeoffs

vaughn2nd January 2021 at 3:17pm

This issue is about tradeoffs and why clarity about tradeoffs is essential for strategy and goal-setting.

Business as usual combines the optimism that things will be alright and pessimism that nothing can be done to root out the source of the unease. It works well until it stops working. Even at the start of 2020, it was pretty clear that business as usual would soon be over—now, at 2020's end, it's undeniable that we are living in a time of uncertain futures.

What should be done in such a situation? The answer is to change the question. The correct fundamental question to ask in strategy is not, “What do you want?” but, instead, “What do you think you are willing (and unwilling) to give up to get what you think you want?”

As usual, there’s not a simple, clear, and accurate way of answering the question, because it goes beyond conventional, coolly rational cost/benefit or pro/con analyses. That the question cannot be definitively answered in advance doesn’t mean it should be ignored—the point is not the answer but the act of asking of the question. This, incidentally, is a fundamental tenet of the uncertainty mindset.

A practice of rigorously articulating and prioritizing tradeoffs is part of a way of being in the world that is personally honest because it forces a coming-to-terms with personal subjectivity and fallibility. And this self-knowledge—knowing what internal un/certainties you have—is the basis for being able to use the space for action that external uncertainty offers.

You can find it here: #9: Tradeoffs