How does personal flexibility (PFL) help to manage uncertainty? First, let’s look at what uncertainty is and how it arises.
What uncertainty is
Firstly, uncertainty can be positive as well as negative. Why positive? Not knowing who your future soul mate is, or whether you will even find one, makes life exciting. And probably changes your behaviour for the better too.
Two kinds of uncertainty are:
- The known unknowns. We might know the current membership of those we are related to by blood. What we don’t know, is exactly when that membership will change (births and deaths). Another version of this is the second-order unknowns. We don’t know the names of our children’s children if we haven’t had children of our own yet.
- The unknown unknowns. This includes unconscious incompetence. We aren’t sufficiently aware that we aren’t equipped to solve a problem. We wade in and act. And then anything is possible!
Our influence on uncertainty can vary too.
- A small intervention on our part, can have a large influence on the level of uncertainty present. For example, we visit our doctor/dentist before the effects of a persistent ache become a bigger problem for us.
- The level of effort on our part can essentially match the change in the resulting uncertainty.
- It might take a large intervention on our part, just to achieve a small change in the level of uncertainty in something we encounter – think of raising a teenager.
We might put in place some risk mitigations to deal with uncertainty. The trouble is that we aren’t so good at identifying if we have enough types of mitigations. Belt alone? Belt and braces? Belt, braces and seatbelt too? Belt, braces, seatbelt and airbags? We aren’t so great at judging the relative strengths of those mitigations either. That’s one place where personal flexibility is helpful – design, test, assess then modify.
How does uncertainty arise?
- Unknowns can arise because of big external changes. War is declared. Brexit is activated. A massive natural disaster hits an area.
- Unknowns can arise because of a lack of information. For example, customer demand for a new product can only be estimated. Until the market reaction is seen. And actual trends understood.
- Unknowns can arise because of a lack of time. For example, time to research the facts and solve a mystery is lost, as new events create new crises that take priority.
- Unknowns can arise because of attitude– progress is undermined due to bias. For example, people with control of certain information choose to discriminate and not make it available. ‘Need to know’ and early tip-offs are related examples.
- Unknowns can arise because of volatility. For example, rescue services, trying to assess actual threat to life in a hurricane, is hampered while conditions of extreme turbulence prevail.
- Unknowns can arise because of a lack of buying power to control or influence certainty. If we can’t afford to buy real options, it can be hard to acquire them.
How can personal flexibility help?
Broadly, if you see more uncertainty emerging, increase your PFL to compensate. Widen your skill base and diversify your income sources. Teach your children to become more independent e.g. earn their own money. Or shop & cook for themselves.
In the UK, with uncertainty over the Brexit outcome in March 2019, some people are reducing their personal debt levels. Or stockpiling canned foods in the short term. Just in case.
PFL can influence the speed at which uncertainties arise or reduce. One idea is to use PFL to develop some ‘brakes’ and ‘accelerators’ on uncertainty. The point being that just like driving a car, you as the driver control the speed. A simple example is diversifying your income sources to act as a brake on the effects of economic downturn.
Avoidance (risk transfer) can reduce your uncertainty. Hedge some key risks. For example, with professional advisors, influential friends, or insurance products.
As always, if you find these blogs useful, feel free to tell others.