Martin Krieger, USC – Uncertainty Principles

Martin Krieger

Martin Krieger

Knowing what you don’t know is vital if you want to change that.

Martin Krieger, a professor of planning at The University of Southern California, profiles uncertainty.

Martin H. Krieger is professor of planning at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He is trained as a physicist, and has taught in urban planning and policy at Berkeley, Minnesota, MIT, Michigan, and USC. His nine books are about mathematical modeling, environmental policy, and about theories of planning and design. He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and at the National Humanities Center. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Uncertainty Principles


Martin Krieger (unk unk)I have been trying to understand the notion of uncertainty, those “unk-unks”—a term originally developed in the aerospace industry to characterize surprises, unknown-unknowns, things you did not know you did not know. Natural scientists, Special Forces military personnel, and entrepreneurs encounter uncertainty in Nature, in their adversaries, and in the marketplace. They employ two strategies: probing the world and exploding the uncertainty boundary.

In the military context, “you want to wade into uncertainty…and prevail; you want to squeeze out uncertainty…and then execute.”

To probe, they might use a particle accelerator or go behind enemy lines or test-market a new product. They and their team-mates do not play it safe. They go toward the uncertain. They improvise when their repertoire of responses is inadequate. Vigilant for the unexpected, they are also skeptical, for there is noise and misinformation.

Their other strategy is to explode uncertainty’s boundary, pushing it back. They have built more powerful accelerators, night-vision binoculars, new product niches. Along the way they develop a comprehensive picture or theory, one that points to farther boundaries.

They thrive on uncertainty and sacrifice. The challenges and the goal enliven them. If there is a difficulty, they re-double their efforts. They never give up. They handle what comes their way.

They and their team-mates are not taking bets. Their experience tells them they can control the dice and rearrange the board.

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