Just Enough Estimates


Big estimates and commitments are not safe-to-fail, but having no estimates or commitments is unworkable.

When I made my breakfast this morning, I estimated (based on my experience) that two slices of bread and a glass of orange juice would be enough. I’m glad that nobody asks me to do a #bigestimate and prepare my total food intake for the whole year of 2014. That would be silly. But #noestimate, or walking back and forth to the kitchen or hotel buffet for each individual bite, doesn’t sound very practical to me. I prefer to estimate just enough to fill one plate, with a good chance of not having to walk back but also not leaving anything uneaten.

In a moment I will be packing my bags for a 2-day trip to Poland. It means I have to estimate the amount of clothes to bring with me, based on the latest weather forecast. Fortunately, nobody requires that I pack for a whole year (#bigestimate). But I have experience not checking the weather forecast (#noestimate) and then suffering nasty rain in London or chilly snow in Helsinki, and I’ve learned that merely adapting is undesirable. I prefer not to struggle with extra suitcases, but a pneumonia is not on my bucket list. That’s why I try to pack just enough.

Later today I will be traveling to the airport. Based on my experience I estimate that I should leave my house roughly 2.5 hours before departure. I don’t like leaving too early because my home is much more comfortable than Brussels airport if I want to be productive. But leaving too late is not an option. In three years I’ve missed a flight only once or twice, and I want to keep it that way. Also I’m not yet applying a #bigestimate to my travel plans for next year’s trips, but neither do I leave today’s trip in the hands of the God of Chance and #noestimates.

Big estimates and commitments are not safe-to-fail, but having no estimates or commitments is unworkable.

“The human brain is an anticipation device. This is how we cheat nature.”

I believe Daniel Dennett should be credited with this quote. We love anticipating (and estimating) things. We usually anticipate (and estimate) far too often. But it’s best to do this in small increments. #justenoughestimates. However, not anticipating, and not estimating, is no option. It would mean we’d be no different than the rest of the natural world, merely adapting to whatever is thrown in our direction. We would stop being human.

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