The death of uncertainty

Samir Mardolker elaborates on how brands help keep the spirit of uncertainty alive

Our quest for certainty is showing signs of ending. Certainty is becoming increasingly achievable – sometimes with a click of a button. Uncertainty is slowly dying. We should be worried!
Why do we pursue certainty: Certainty cues safety. We are genetically wired to look for safety. So it is evident that we will look for certainty. We are wired to be averse to ambiguity, unpredictability i.e. anything that we can’t guarantee. Occasionally, we might enjoy uncertainty as a thrill. But that’s when we make a choice to pick thrill and consciously compromise certainty.
What has changed about our pursuit: Technology is increasingly making things more certain for us. Let’s start with our choices: Review sites, recommendations, influencers, very easy access to information (e.g. you can see a hotel room you have booked with the click of your mouse) all decrease the uncertainty in choices. We are more certain about where our loved ones are being in easy contact with them. We can predict the arrival of flight, rains or anything that we can track or have past data to predict. We know a lot about most disease conditions that takes away the uncertainty of life – literally. Anything that provides reassurance and relieves anxiety by providing more certainty guarantees success. Therefore our relentless pursuit of certainty will continue and technological advances may one day relegate uncertainty to minimal levels; if not completely eliminate it in many situations.
Where will we end if certainty dominates and uncertainty is eliminated? Uncertainty is what has fuelled our growth. Not knowing for sure what will happen encourages the explorer, the experimenter, and the adventurer in us. Going through the uncertainty when we finally realise where we land, we have learnt a lot about us – who we are, how we think and how we can make better choices in future. A bit of uncertainty is so essential to grow. Navigating a bit of uncertainty, in summary, puts us in ‘flow’ and helps us grow.
How do we strike a balance in letting life to be a bit uncertain without being too inconvenient?
If life is about going from one point to another, uncertainty is not knowing which road to take. So we have to plan and be obsessed about being more certain about everything. Firstly, we should recognise that a) technology is increasingly making things more certain for us and b) decreased uncertainty could impede our growth and learning. We will then be more accepting of letting some uncertainty to creep into our lives. We can make deliberate choices that put us in uncertain positions – as simple as that. Allowing a bit of uncertainty for me is as easy as hopping on a flight to Goa where I spent most of my childhood. Nothing is certain here versus the structure and discipline of Singapore. A few days here injects the joy of uncertainty in my life. I discover myself and rekindle the explorer in me. Even my primal instincts of running away from danger are stroked (when I pass by a street full of stray dogs). Besides this, I also start valuing many things I take for granted in Singapore. How will you let that happen? Pick a day? Travel without planning? Break away from a routine on a weekend? Try a restaurant without being obsessed by reviews? Let life surprise you a bit every once in a while when you can afford to trade-off potential inconveniences for the pleasure of learning from navigating uncertainty. My favourite: Switch off your mobile phone over the weekend. Totally off.
Can brands keep the spirit of uncertainty alive? Who and what else?
Google: Please help me create a search engine that throws up some not so relevant results so I can enjoy ‘researching’ in the true sense of it. Google Maps – please only show me the milestones once in a while so I can figure out part of the route myself.
All food brands: Please explore offering mystery flavours
All insurance providers: Understandably you can’t offer ‘no claim penalty’ to encourage risk taking! But perhaps try to make the claims process simple and offer full reimbursement to help us make risk taking less painful post-hoc?
All schools: Encourage teachers to manifest that one day the most uncertain thing will happen – their best student will be working for one of the back benchers. Such awareness will help us and don’t kill the love for uncertainty in the foundational years of our lives.
All lovers: Do not look for the perfect romantic relationships. Relationship ambivalence and the ensuing uncertainty (is this right for me? Should I stay or leave?), are all healthy feelings that if channeled in the right direction can turn every low moment in the relationship into a learning and growth opportunity that takes those relationships to new highs.
Indeed, we will have to make a conscious effort to embrace a bit of uncertainty in our lives. With machines learning who we are, what we need, where we are, what we eat etc. the pursuit of uncertainty is actually getting tougher. Certainty has become the default goal. Let’s keep uncertainty alive by deliberately putting ourselves in uncertain situations at least once in a while!

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