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iceberg in the ocean

How The Iceberg Effect Illuminates How Much We Don't Know

"...our human instincts, shaped for (and craving) a simple world, fundamentally mislead us in a complex, unpredictable world."  - Jennifer Garvey Berger

The Iceberg effect is a visual metaphor for realistically facing our work. When we face a project, relationship, employee, or client, the top of the iceberg is what we immediately see. Sometimes, it’s the only thing we want to see. 

When exploring a solution to our problem, we only see the tip of the iceberg (something this optimist still struggles with). We may think it’ll only take two weeks to complete when in reality it's a two-month-long project. 

Experience and discussion allow us to go deeper with our understanding. But, even without these insights, the simple act of mapping out everything we think is required to make it happen, and asking others for feedback, will get us much further along than most of us appreciate. 

iceberg effect, known, unknown, uncertainty

When we do have experience in a particular area, we visualize what the iceberg looks below the tip. We’re grafting this experience onto what we see in front of us so we can make wise assessments. While we don't know for sure, we can reasonably anticipate the unknowns that are likely and unlikely to happen. This perspective helps us better predict the successes and failures we'll face along the way. 

But, no matter how experienced and knowledgeable we are, we will inevitably face unexpected unknowns in life, work, and projects. It's a deep abyss with no end. 

In 2001, numerous New York companies planned for what they knew and what they expected could happen to mitigate their risk and maximize their chances of success. However, no one expected a group of terrorists to attack the world trade towers and change the paradigm of their business, New York City, and Americans nationwide. 

It is wise for us to plan for what we know, what we anticipate, and a little extra for the complete unknown. But there will always be a gap, and consequences we can’t entirely prevent or overcome. 

When the unexpected does come our way, how we respond is critical to overcoming and sustaining success along the way.

For me, I choose to trust in God. How about you?

I'll leave you with one last idea, about the symbolic nature of the unknown unknown.

"The more profound the threat — the deeper the chaos — the more likely that it will represent itself as mankind's most ancient enemy, the serpent. Perhaps it can be thought of like this: The unknown unknowns — those elements of being that are foreign and dangerous beyond imagination, and whose manifestation can kill or destroy psychologically — are those most likely to be represented in serpentine form." — Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order

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