On Being Certain

There is something comforting about a person who is sure of themselves. We like certainty. We trust certainty. When someone changes their mind, we wonder how easily they were swayed of their convictions. Good leaders are strong. They have answers. They don’t change their minds lest they be flip-floppers. There is plenty of evidence to support our love of this kind of leadership.

Unfortunately, that is not how good decisions are made. Certainty leads to, among other things, confirmation bias–we only take note of evidence that supports our convictions and discount evidence that tends to disprove them. Certainty closes off a leader from the input of advisers and subordinates–people who have a valuable and different perspective that may lead to a better decision. Certainty leads to echo chambers and a lack of diverse thinking.

I would rather work with a person who is uncertain. Uncertainty is not the same as being wishy washy. Yes, decisions must be made. And when they are, we should have conviction in those decisions. But, until that point, I want that person to embrace the fact that they may not know everything. And after that point, I want that person to be open to changing their mind in light of new evidence.

Certainty is good for the ego. Uncertainty is good for the decision-making process.

For more on the topic:

How Certainty Transforms Persuasion by Zakary L. Tormala and Derek D. Rucker

Google Search “strong opinions weakly held” which will bring you down a rabbit hole about certainty and forecasting. The sooner you realize that we can’t forecast shit, the better you will be insulated from the certainty of experts who make a living on pretending to have a crystal ball.

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