My dad, though a man of few words, has given me some great advice over the years.  One such pieces of advice was “You always end up getting paid what you’re worth.  If you want to be paid more, figure out how to be worth more.”  It was advice I took to heart, taking responsibility for gaining skills, expertise and experience to move into new areas.

Another piece of advice from Dad was “To the extent possible, make decisions that leave the most options open.”  This advice has also served me well, being slow to make decisions that were limiting, and trying to make decisions in a way that left doors open.  

I was surprised to see, towards the end of a recent issue of David Epstein’s excellent Range Widely newsletter (which I recommend, as super interesting), something that strangely echoed my dad’s advice.

The article, The Science of Uncertainty, is an interview with Christie Aschwanden about her new Scientific Americanminiseries Uncertain, on the science of uncertainty.  It starts with a discussion of the viral dress phenomenon, about a dress that different people see as different colors. (The dress is clearly blue and black to me, inconsistent with the chronotype theory.)  But the point was about how our brains process ambiguity.

I remember a speech class at Amherst Regional High School, and a fellow classmate giving a speech with the aid of an overhead projector. As I remember, she dimmed the room lights, then showed us a number of slides asking us to identify the color.  We said each one was white.  When she turned the lights on, and showed all the slides at once, we were shocked to see that they ranged from very white, to very gray, but without context, they had all individually looked white. 

There was also a section on evaluating scientific studies, and how the studies are conducted impact the results.  Makes one not quite so blithe about accepting ‘scientific studies’ in the future…

Towards the end (and now you know why I love this newsletter, they are PACKED with intriguing stuff!) they talk about the final episode of Ms. Aschwanden’s series.  The final episode deals with how to make decisions, when all the forecasts are highly uncertain.  Epstein quotes the term coined by Barry Schwartz of “robust satisficing”.  The suggestion is, when the forecast data is highly uncertain, to make decisions that will be good or at least good enough for the maximum number of scenarios, rather than optimizing for one particular forecast.  

I guess my dad was right.  I hope you have a dad that gave you some good advice along the way.

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  1. My Dad fixed problems for people that they couldn’t fix for themselves… his advice to me over and over was, “Life is complex, truth is simple. Seek truth.”

    As for uncertainty, well that is why humans developed the concept of strategy. When you know what you want and that it can be done, create a plan and implement it. When you are uncertain about what you need to do for success, then develop a strategy to guide you.

    1. I like that! When things seem complex, look for the simple truths. Sometimes I’ve found, when things seem too simple, it’s worth checking for nuances…

  2. My dad had words of advice which we sibs cherish:
    Ability shines by its own light.
    To thine own self be true.
    Never burn your bridges.

    And from my mom, always: Either say something nice about someone or say nothing at all.

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