We know we can’t predict the future, so why do we try? It seems as though it’s something we can’t help; our brains have developed the need to know what’s coming, to feel certain and secure. In our world of responsibilities, barriers, pitfalls and commitments; as well as achievement, creativity and joy; this need for certainty inevitably brings stress. However, what emerges in this article from Quartz is our insatiable need to flex the ideation muscle – to think and dream and hypothesise. Imagining is a skill that needs constant work.
Just about every decision made in business seems to rely on an accurate understanding of the future state of the world. How will the market respond to our upcoming launch? What products will our competitors release next year? How will the industry be affected by technological innovation, economic downturns, and regulatory changes? How will this employee perform in a position, and how will that one advance within the company?
Leaders often cite the answers to these questions as they explain their actions.
But if we really were accurate forecasters of future events, there would be no such thing as an unforeseen crisis. We all know that’s not the case. So if we’re so inept at thinking about the future, why the false sense of certainty?
if we’re so inept at thinking about the future, why the false sense of certainty?
Neuroscience offers an explanation: The future is inherently uncertain—and the brain loathes uncertainty. For our brains, the experience of uncertainty is both cognitively taxing and subjectively aversive. In fact, processing uncertainty is so unpleasant that it affects decision making, mental risk assessment, and even our ability to learn.
This is because the brain values certainty in a very similar manner to how it values food, sex, and social connection. And since a sense of certainty offers a perceived control over the environment that is in itself inherently rewarding, the brain treats uncertainty —and the inability to predict the future—as a source of deep discomfort.