Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers

Some uncertainties are resolvable. The insurance industry’s actuarial tables and the gambler’s roulette wheel both yield to the tools of probability theory. Most situations in life, however, involve a deeper kind of uncertainty, a radical uncertainty for which historical data provide no useful guidance to future outcomes. Radical uncertainty concerns events whose determinants are insufficiently understood for probabilities to be known or forecasting possible. Before President Barack Obama made the fateful decision to send in the Navy Seals, his advisers offered him wildly divergent estimates of the odds that Osama bin Laden would be in the Abbottabad compound. In 2000, no one—not least Steve Jobs—knew what a smartphone was; how could anyone have predicted how many would be sold in 2020? And financial advisers who confidently provide the information required in the standard retirement planning package—what will interest rates, the cost of living, and your state of health be in 2050?—demonstrate only that their advice is worthless.


The limits of certainty demonstrate the power of human judgment over artificial intelligence. In most critical decisions there can be no forecasts or probability distributions on which we might sensibly rely. Instead of inventing numbers to fill the gaps in our knowledge, we should adopt business, political, and personal strategies that will be robust to alternative futures and resilient to unpredictable events. Within the security of such a robust and resilient reference narrative, uncertainty can be embraced, because it is the source of creativity, excitement, and profit.

Title:Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers
ISBN:9781324004783
Format Type:

    Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers Reviews

  • Mehrsa

    I've read both Kay and King's individual books and am a fan of both. This book needed some editing help, but the insights are worthwhile, incredibly relevant, and essential for everyone to understand-...

  • Marks54

    This is a book by two well known British economists, both of whom are accomplished scholars and analysts of economics, corporate strategy, and finance. The premise is fairly straightforward and starts...

  • Otto Lehto

    Radical Uncertainty makes an important contribution to the current debate. It challenges the role of technocratic experts, and the mathematical models that they hide behind, in decision making. It put...

  • William T

    I am not finished, but I will say that the central thesis of this book is compelling. I am not convinced that the same couldn't have been accomplished in a shorter book, but I will have more to say wh...

  • Clay

    The book's title is a no brainer in the crazy pandemic world of today. This tour de force questions the assumption behind economic models that humans behave rationally. Instead, begin by asking: "What...

  • Patrick

    Kay and King make a decent attempt at explaining the shortcomings of modern economics, though it takes them quite a while to get to the point. They put forward the thesis that economic and political a...

  • Mikko Arevuo

    We don’t know what the future holds, but we still need to make far reaching decisions. Unlike F. A. Hayek who said the he preferred true but imperfect knowledge to a pretence of exact knowledge that...

  • David

    Moved my thinking forwardI, too, believed that probabilistic reasoning was the forefront of decision making. This book is pioneering a greater faith in the evolved capacity of "eye-balling" a complex ...

  • Aaron Terrazas

    Truly, stunningly brilliant. One to read again and again. ...

  • Amnon Danzig

    I was about to write my 2nd edition for my book: "From Enigma to Paradigm".The 2nd edition should tackle the issue of "Sense-Making and Decision Making".And all of a sudden I was exposed to this book....