The Illusion of Certainty

Report Number: NPS-AM-10-030

Series: Acquisition Management

Category: Acquisition Strategy

Report Series: Proceedings Paper

Authors: Grady Campbell

Title: The Illusion of Certainty

Published: 2010-04-01

Sponsored By: Acquisition Research Program

Status: Published--Unlimited Distribution

Research Type: Other Research Faculty

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Keywords: Acquisition Strategy


Acquisition policy and, even more so, acquisition practice today presumes that certainty is key to success, and that uncertainty or delays in achieving certainty regarding user needs or solution approach will necessarily impede progress. This means that when uncertainty arises during an acquisition effort, the natural response is to make decisions that resolve this uncertainty. Uncertainties arise for various reasons, such as poorly understood, conflicting, or changing needs. If, under pressure to maintain progress, an acquisition effort makes decisions to resolve these uncertainties without sufficient information, expertise, or deliberation, they are really only creating an illusion of certainty; in a practical sense, the uncertainty still exists. This artificial certainty then leads to flaws such as insufficient detail concerning specific needs or premature limiting of solution options. A new approach to acquisition is needed that recognizes that hiding uncertainty is detrimental to success. Systematically exposing uncertainties will be beneficial toward making acquisitions more flexible, cost-effective, and responsive to changing needs.