Certainty About Uncertainties: What the Tragedy in Japan Reveals

Ed Note: The following is a non-sponsored guest post from Kevin Moss of BT Global Services. Part of the mission of 3p is to bring companies large and small into the greater conversation about sustainability. This post is part of that mission.

By Kevin Moss, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility – Americas, BT Global Services

The recent tragedy in Japan reminds us that the uncertainties of this world require us and our leaders to remain open-minded to all possibilities and solutions. 

Although we are more comfortable when our leaders exude unwavering certainty about their decision-making, this virtue is not always optimal: personal motives can cloud our thought processes, and there is truly no certainty in our world. 

We hope that we process information with a healthy skepticism, but ultimately our conclusions are colored by the framework within which we hear the perspectives. The structures upon which we build our views are fragile and certainly influenced by our preconceptions on related topics. Consequently, it is a good discipline to look inward from time to time and examine our own motives and how they lead us to the conclusions we reach and then defend with such certainty.

I read this quote in a recent article about the Japanese earthquake in the Washington Post from Dave Wald of the US Geological Survey:

“It’s really just a kind of guessing game, and Mother Nature never really puts up with those guessing games”.

The article also referred to detailed measurement and analysis of the impact of the earthquake that was absolutely predicted to occur, but elsewhere in Japan. I immediately thought of the book Black Swan by Nassim Taleb that I read recently – it is not just earthquakes where we get caught by these uncertainties – it is in every walk of life.

And although we toil over detailed analyses of things that can be measured, we must not do so at the expense of missing something broader and not so quantifiable. Not everything can be measured and sometimes an informed estimate with limited preciseness is more valuable than a detailed analysis. 

Because there is no cookie cutter solution to solving economic, social, and environmental issues, our leaders must be especially cognizant of the above facts. I propose that in this uncertain world, and with the knowledge that as humans our views are easily influenced by the framework within which we are comfortable, it will serve sustainability well for us and our leaders to be a little more humble in our views and how we present them , and to make plenty of room for the alternative perspective.

Kevin Moss has responsibility for implementation of BT’s corporate social responsibility strategy in North America.  His role covers environment, climate change impact, community investment and sustainable business practice.  Kevin’s blog CSR Perspective shares his views and observations on a broad range of corporate social responsibility issues.  A British national, Kevin began his career in telecommunications in an international marketing role for BT in the UK.

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