“…there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
This is a partial list of the key concepts behind UP. How many are familiar to you? How many do you use to guide your life strategy or goal attainment efforts? We’d encourage you to take 10 at random and give yourself a numeric grade.
Affect heuristic: a mental shortcut that allows people to make decisions and solve problems quickly and efficiently, in which current emotions influence decisions
Agency: a means of exerting power or influence
Ambivalence: a state of having simultaneous conflicting reactions, beliefs, or feelings towards some object
Anchoring: the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions
Argument map: a visual representation of the structure of an argument; an argument map typically includes the key components of the argument, traditionally called the conclusion and the premises; argument maps can also show co-premises, objections, counter-arguments, rebuttals, and lemmas
Automation: the use of various control systems for operating equipment such as machinery, processes in factories, boilers and heat treating ovens, switching on telephone networks, steering and stabilization of ships, aircraft and other applications and vehicles with minimal or reduced human intervention, with some processes being completely automated
Average: a single value, also known as the mean, that summarizes or represents the general significance of a set of unequal values
Axiology: the philosophical study of value; it is either the collective term for ethics and aesthetics, philosophical fields that depend crucially on notions of worth, or the foundation for these fields, and thus similar to value theory and meta-ethics
Bayes’ Theorem: the probability of an event, based on prior knowledge of conditions that might be related to the event; for example, if cancer is related to age, then, using Bayes’ theorem, a person’s age can be used to more accurately assess the probability that they have cancer, compared to the assessment of the probability of cancer made without knowledge of the person’s age
Bayesian updating: a method of statistical inference in which Bayes’ Theorem is used to update the probability for a hypothesis as more evidence or information becomes available
Behavioral economics: studies the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and resource allocation, although not always that narrowly, but also more generally, of the impact of different kinds of behavior, in different environments of varying experimental values
Behavioral science: encompasses the various disciplines and interactions among organisms in the natural world. It involves the systematic analysis and investigation of human and animal behaviour through the study of the past, controlled and naturalistic observation of the present, and disciplined scientific experimentation. It attempts to accomplish legitimate, objective conclusions through rigorous formulations and observation. Examples of behavioral sciences include psychology, psychobiology, and cognitive science.
Bounded awareness: systematic patterns of cognition that prevent people from noticing or focusing on useful, observable, and relevant data; also known as boiling frog syndrome
Brain as a computer analogy: thinking of your brain as a computer with a CPU (executive functioning), storage space (long-term memory), RAM (working memory), and electricity (calorie-rich blood)
Causal density: when there are many factors that have an impact on a system, statistical analysis yields unreliable results
Causal factors: any behavior, omission, or deficiency that if corrected, eliminated, or avoided probably would have prevented an outcome
Causal inference: the art and science of making a causal claim about the relationship between two (or more) factors
Causal reasoning: the process of identifying causality, the relationship between a cause and its effect
Cognitive behavioral therapy: a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.
Cognitive biases: the systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment.
Cognitive psychology: the scientific study of mind and mental function, including learning, memory, attention, perception, reasoning, language, conceptual development, and decision making. The modern study of cognition rests on the premise that the brain can be understood as a complex computing system.
Coherence: when personal strivings help bring about each other or help bring about higher level goals; see congruence
Concept map: a diagram that depicts suggested relationships between concepts. A concept map typically represents ideas and information as boxes or circles, which it connects with labeled arrows in a downward-branching hierarchical structure. The relationship between concepts can be articulated in linking phrases such as causes, requires, or contributes to.
Congruence: striving for self-determined reasons. Also when strivings help bring about intrinsic rather than extrinsic higher level goals. See coherence.
Control theory: deals with the behavior of dynamic systems with inputs, and how their behavior is modified by feedback. The usual objective of control theory is to control a system, often called the plant, so its output follows a desired control signal, called the reference, which may be a fixed or changing value. To do this, a controller is designed, which monitors the output and compares it with the reference. The difference between actual and desired output, called the error signal, is applied as feedback to the input of the system, to bring the actual output closer to the reference.
Cost-benefit analysis (CBA): a systematic approach to estimating the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives
Counterfactual: relating to or expressing what has not happened or is not the case
Credence: the probability or chance that something is true, or to the belief that something is true
Critical thinking: is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
Crucial consideration: a consideration which is likely to cause a major shift of our view of interventions or areas, a consideration which, if found, would be extremely important
Cumulative advantage: a general mechanism for inequality across any temporal process (e.g., life course, family generations) in which a favorable relative position becomes a resource that produces further relative gains
Debiasing: the reduction of bias, particularly with respect to judgment and decision making
Decisional balance sheet: a tabular method for representing the pros and cons of different choices and for helping someone decide what to do in a certain circumstance
Decisions in blackjack analogy: thinking of the decisions you make as if you were playing a game of blackjack
Decision-making software: computer applications that are used to help individuals and organisations make choices and take decisions, typically by ranking, prioritizing or choosing from a number of options
Decision quality: the quality of a decision at the moment the decision is made, regardless of its outcome
Decision support system (DSS): a computer-based information system that supports business or organizational decision-making activities. DSSs help people make decisions about problems that may be rapidly changing and not easily specified in advance (e.g., unstructured and semi-structured decision problems).
Decision theory: an interdisciplinary approach to determine how decisions are made given unknown variables and an uncertain decision environment framework
Decision tree: a decision support tool that uses a tree-like graph or model of decisions and their possible consequences, including chance event outcomes, resource costs, and utility
Developmental psychology: the scientific study of how and why human beings change over the course of their life. Originally concerned with infants and children, the field has expanded to include adolescence, adult development, aging, and the entire lifespan.
Disabuse: to cause someone no longer to have a wrong idea
Distal causation: an event that is a higher-level ultimate cause, which is usually thought of as the “real” reason something occurred, to an observed result. See proximate causation.
Doxastic openness: the willingness to revise beliefs in response to evidence. A technical term related to humility that basically means “I am willing to change my beliefs based on a new or better understanding of evidence”.
Dual Process Theory: provides an account of how thought can arise in two different ways, or as a result of two different processes
Dunning-Kruger effect: a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude.
Economics: a social science concerned chiefly with description and analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services
Effectiveness: the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result
Efficiency: a level of performance that describes a process that uses the lowest amount of inputs to create the greatest amount of outputs. Efficiency relates to the use of all inputs in producing any given output, including personal time and energy. Efficiency is a measurable concept that can be determined by determining the ratio of useful output to total input. It minimizes the waste of resources such as physical materials, energy and time, while successfully achieving the desired output.
Endowment effect: people ascribe more value to things merely because they own them
Environmental design: the process of addressing surrounding environmental parameters when devising plans, programs, policies, buildings, or products
Epistemic curiosity: the desire to obtain new knowledge (e.g., concepts, ideas, and facts) expected to stimulate intellectual interest or eliminate conditions of informational deprivation
Epistemic effort: the amount of thinking, experimenting, and analysis that went into understanding something
Epistemic hygiene: practices meant to allow accurate beliefs to spread within a community and keep less accurate or biased beliefs contained. The practices are meant to serve an analogous purpose to normal hygiene and sanitation in containing disease. “Good cognitive citizenship” is another phrase that has been proposed for this concept.
Epistemic status: the degree of validation of a claim
Epistemology: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion
Ethics: moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity
Evolutionary psychology: a theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain useful mental and psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as adaptations, i.e., as the functional products of natural selection
Exocortex: an artificial external information processing system that would augment a brain’s biological high-level cognitive processes
Expected utility theorem: rational agents, faced with a probabilistic choice, will act to maximize the expected value of their utility
Expected value (EV): an anticipated value for a given investment. It’s calculated by multiplying each of the possible outcomes by the likelihood each outcome will occur, and summing all of those values.
Expert judgement: a form of defeasible argument in which a claimed authority’s support is used as evidence for an argument’s conclusion
Extension neglect: a type of cognitive bias that occurs when the mind tends to ignore the size of the set during an evaluation in which the size of the set is logically relevant
Factor analysis: a process in which the values of observed data are expressed as functions of a number of possible causes in order to find which are the most important
Feedback loop: a common and powerful tool when designing a control system. Feedback loops take the system output into consideration, which enables the system to adjust its performance to meet a desired output response.
Fixed mindset: a belief that abilities are mostly innate. See growth mindset.
Flipism: flipping a coin or using a random method to make decisions
Focal point: in Game Theory a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication, because it seems natural, special, or relevant to them. Also known as a Schelling point.
Framework: a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text
Framing effect: a cognitive bias in which people react to a particular choice in different ways depending on how it is presented
Full-time equivalent (FTE): a unit that indicates the workload of a person in a way that makes workloads or class loads comparable across various contexts. An FTE of 1.0 is equivalent to a full-time worker, while an FTE of 0.5 signals half of a full workload.
Future self: the unique version of yourself that will exist in the future. See past self.
Fuzzies: a hypothetical measurement unit for “warm fuzzy feeling” one gets from believing that one has done good. Fuzzies can be earned through psychological tricks without regard for efficiency.
Game theory: analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants
Global maxima: the maximum or minimum over the entire function is called an “absolute” or “global” maximum or minimum. There is only one global maximum (and one global minimum) but there can be more than one local maximum or minimum.
Goal: a desired result or possible outcome that a person or a system envisions, plans and commits to achieve
Growth mindset: belief that one can acquire any given ability with effort or study. See fixed mindset.
Hasty generalization: an informal fallacy of faulty generalization by reaching an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence—essentially making a rushed conclusion without considering all of the variables. Also known as the law of small numbers.
Hyperbolic discounting: a cognitive bias in which an individual shows a preference for a reward that arrives sooner over a reward that arrives later
Hypocognition: missing and being unable to communicate cognitive and linguistic representations because there are no words for particular concepts
Ideological Turing test: a concept to test whether a political or ideological partisan correctly understands the arguments of his or her intellectual adversaries. The partisan is invited to answer questions or write an essay posing as his opponent; if neutral judges cannot tell the difference between the partisan’s answers and the answers of the opponent, the candidate is judged to correctly understand the opposing side.
Inferential distance: a gap between the background knowledge and epistemology of a person trying to explain an idea, and the background knowledge and epistemology of the person trying to understand it
Inside view: considers a problem by focusing on the specific task and by using information that is close at hand, and makes predictions based on that narrow and uniques set of inputs. See outside view; people generally favor inside view over outside
Instrumental rationality: specific form of rationality focusing on the most efficient or cost-effective means to achieve a specific end, but not in itself reflecting on the value of that end. See epistemic rationality.
Intelligence: one’s ability to efficiently use available resources to shape the world in accordance with one’s preferences, in a wide variety of environments
Just so story: an unverifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals. Also called an ad hoc fallacy.
Kaizen: a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continual improvement throughout all aspects of life
Law of large numbers: the statistical tendency toward a fixed ratio in the results when an experiment is repeated a large number of times. Also known as the law of averages.
Life as a massive multiplayer online game (MMORPG) analogy: thinking of yourself as a character in a game that “levels up” skills and equipment to better complete quests
Life as a startup analogy: thinking of living your life as you would create and run a startup
Local maxima: the largest or smallest value of the function, respectively, within a given range. See global maxima.
Locate the hypothesis: determining the appropriate hypothesis to consider. When the space of possible answers is large it takes a large amount of evidence just to promote the potentially correct answer to your attention.
Map-territory relation: the relationship between an object and a representation of that object, as in the relation between a geographical territory and a map of it
Marginal utility: the additional satisfaction a consumer gains from consuming one more unit of a good or service
Median: the value separating the higher half of a data sample, a population, or a probability distribution, from the lower half. For a continuous probability distribution, the median is the value such that a number is equally likely to fall above or below it.
Metagrowth: improving your ability to improve. Also known as recursive self-improvement.
Meta-level: level or degree (of understanding, existence, etc.) which is higher and often more abstract than those levels at which a subject, etc., is normally understood or treated; a level which is above, beyond, or outside other levels, or which is inclusive of a series of lower levels.
Mindfulness: maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment
Model: a representation of a system using general rules and concepts
Motivated reasoning: an emotion-biased decision-making phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology. This term describes the role of motivation in cognitive processes such as decision-making and attitude change in a number of paradigms, including: Cognitive dissonance reduction.
Motivational interviewing: a goal-oriented, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence
Narrow framing: the phenomenon when people are offered a new gamble, they sometimes evaluate it in isolation, separately from their other risks
Normal distribution: the probability distribution that plots all of its values in a symmetrical fashion, and most of the results are situated around the probability’s mean. Values are equally likely to plot either above or below the mean. Grouping takes place at values close to the mean and then tails off symmetrically away from the mean.
Notice and update: being mindful of your current thoughts, feelings, and actions and changing them to best suit your aims
Ontology: the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence and/or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.
Operant conditioning: a type of learning in which the strength of a behavior is modified by the behavior’s consequences, such as reward or punishment
Optimal decision: a decision that leads to at least as good an outcome as all other available decision options
Outside view: using an estimate based on a class of roughly similar previous cases, rather than trying to visualize the details of a process. See inside view.
Pareto principle: also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
Past self: the unique version of yourself that existed in the past. See future self.
Personal assistant (PA): a job title describing a person who assists a specific person with their daily business or personal tasks. Also known as executive assistant. See virtual assistant.
Philosophy: the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
Plan: a set of intended actions, usually mutually related, through which one expects to achieve a goal
Planning fallacy: a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed
Postmortem: a process, usually performed at the conclusion of a project, to determine and analyze elements of the project that were successful or unsuccessful; see premortem
Power law: a power law is a relationship in which a relative change in one quantity gives rise to a proportional relative change in the other quantity, independent of the initial size of those quantities
Premortem: a technique for identifying risks at the outset of a project by imagining that it failed and asking how it failed; see postmortem
Priming: the implicit memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences response to a subsequent stimulus
Privileging the hypothesis: the fallacy of singling out a particular hypothesis for attention when there is insufficient evidence already in hand to justify such special attention
Probability density: a function whose value at any given sample (or point) in the sample space (the set of possible values taken by the random variable) can be interpreted as providing a relative likelihood that the value of the random variable would equal that sample. In other words, while the absolute likelihood for a continuous random variable to take on any particular value is 0 (since there are an infinite set of possible values to begin with), the value of the probability density function at two different samples can be used to infer that, in any particular draw of the random variable, how much more likely it is that the random variable would equal one sample compared to the other sample.
Probability distribution: a mathematical function that can be thought of as providing the probabilities of occurrence of different possible outcomes in an experiment
Prospective hindsight: imagining that an event has already occurred
Proximate causation: an event which is closest to, or immediately responsible for causing, some observed result. See ultimate causation.
Psychology: the science of behavior and mind, embracing all aspects of conscious and unconscious experience as well as thought. It is an academic discipline and a social science which seeks to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases.
Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY): a generic measure of disease burden, including both the quality and the quantity of life lived. It is used in economic evaluation to assess the value for money of medical interventions. See Wellbeing Adjusted Life Year (WALY).
Rationality: the quality of thinking well, wielding intelligence in such a way as to maximize the convergence between its beliefs and reality, and acts on these beliefs in such a manner as to maximize its chances of achieving whatever goals it has. See instrumental rationality and epistemic rationality.
Reframing: changing the conceptual and/or emotional viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and placing it in a different frame that fits the “facts” of a concrete situation equally well, thereby changing its entire meaning
Robust decision-making (RDM): an iterative decision analytic framework that aims to help identify potential robust strategies, characterize the vulnerabilities of such strategies, and evaluate the tradeoffs among them. RDM focuses on informing decisions under conditions of what is called “deep uncertainty”, that is, conditions where the parties to a decision do not know or do not agree on the system model(s) relating actions to consequences or the prior probability distributions for the key input parameters to those model(s).
Satisficing: a decision-making strategy that aims for a satisfactory or adequate result, rather than the optimal solution
Scope neglect: a cognitive bias that occurs when the valuation of a problem is not valued with a multiplicative relationship to its size
Self-concept: a collection of beliefs about oneself
Self-licensing: the subconscious phenomenon whereby increased confidence and security in one’s self-image or self-concept tends to make that individual worry less about the consequences of subsequent immoral behavior and, therefore, more likely to make immoral choices and act immorally
Single-action bias: Decision makers are very likely to take one action to reduce a risk that they worry about, but are much less likely to take additional steps that would provide incremental protection or risk reduction. The single action taken is not necessarily the most effective one, nor is it the same for different decision makers.
Social psychology: scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.
Sociology: scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change.
Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT): a goal-directed collaborative approach to psychotherapeutic change that is conducted through direct observation of clients’ responses to a series of precisely constructed questions. SFBT focuses on addressing what clients want to achieve without exploring the history and provenance of problem(s). SF therapy sessions typically focus on the present and future, focusing on the past only to the degree necessary for communicating empathy and accurate understanding of the client’s concerns.
Standard deviation: a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean. It is calculated as the square root of variance by determining the variation between each data point relative to the mean. If the data points are further from the mean, there is higher deviation within the data set.
Statistics: a branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of masses of numerical data
Status quo bias: an emotional bias; a preference for the current state of affairs
Steelman: to refute a stronger version of an argument than what was actually given; to repair flaws in an argument before refuting it
Stimulus & response: the space between an event and an agent’s reaction
Strategy: a method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem
Sunk cost: a cost that has already been incurred and thus cannot be recovered
Sunk cost fallacy: the idea that a company or organization is more likely to continue with a project if they have already invested a lot of money, time or effort in it, even when continuing is not the best thing to do
System: a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole
System 1: an automatic process by breaking down the term “automatic” into four components: awareness, intentionality, efficiency, and controllability. See Dual Process Theory and System 2.
System 2: also known as the explicit system, the rule-based system, the rational system, or the analytic system. It performs the more slow and sequential thinking. It is domain-general, performed in the central working memory system. See Dual Process Theory and System 1.
System map: a visual description of the service technical organization: the different actors involved, their mutual links and the flows of materials, energy, information and money through the system
Systems thinking: a management discipline that concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the entirety of that defined system
Tactic: the means by which a strategy is carried out; planned and ad hoc activities meant to deal with the demands of the moment, and to move from one milestone to another in pursuit of the overall goal(s)
Temporal discounting: the tendency of people to discount rewards as they approach a temporal horizon in the future or the past
Theory of mind: ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own
Time preference: the attachment of a higher weight in utility to consumption in the present compared to consumption in the future
Unlearning: discarding (something learned, especially a bad habit or false or outdated information) from one’s memory
Utility: a measure of preferences over some set of goods. It represents satisfaction experienced by the consumer of a good.
Utility function: a function that assigns utilities to outcomes
Value: important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable
Value of information (VOI): how much answering a question allows a decision-maker to improve its decision
Virtual assistant (VA): a person who provides support services to other businesses from a remote location. See personal assistant.
Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA): an acronym used to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations
Wellbeing Adjusted Life Year (WELBY): weighing the value of different states based on a proxy of their overall impact on a composite measure of welfare, rather than just health. See Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY).
Wicked problem: a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of the term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil.