Editor's note:Rajan Sambandam is chief research officer at TRC Market Research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The subtitle of Julia Galef’s recent book, “The Scout Mindset,” is “Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t.” It is based on the idea that there is a lot of uncertainty in the world and it is impossible to account for everything. So, changing our minds based on new information is a virtue that allows us to constantly update our maps of reality – the scout mind-set.
This is in contrast to the soldier mind-set, which is more rigid and unwilling to change and falls prey to various biases such as motivated reasoning that allow one to rest comfortably inside a perception that could diverge significantly from reality.
This view is very appealing as it reflects a perspective that I used when I taught market research to MBA students. The purpose of research is not to obtain perfect information – that’s impossible. The purpose is to go from a state of higher uncertainty to one of lower uncertainty. Of course, we do this by systematically gathering data, analyzing it for insights and providing results to help business decision-makers.
Where do Mr. Spock of TV’s “Star Trek” and famed naturalist Charles Darwin, referenced in my article’s title, fit in? In the way we gather and use information to come to the right conclusion. Before we get to them, let’s first look at what we mean by uncertainty.
Galef talks about two kinds of uncertainty – uncertainty in you and uncertainty in the world. Though they are conflated in practice, it is the former that is problematic. For example, she cites studies that show that patients are unhappy with doctors who seem uncertain – making them wonder if a better doctor should be consulted. But when doctors clearly explain the complexity of the case and provide context for their uncertainty, the patients are much happier.