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Ambiguity Aversion (or Uncertainty aversion) is a fallacy in decision making process where known risks are preferred over unknown risks, even if the unknown risks might be better.

 

An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. The best answer was provided by Nethaji and Sumukha Nagaraja.

 

Applause for all the respondents - Hardik Joshi, Nethaji, Amol Ingole, Sumukha Nagaraja, Sudhee.

Question

Q 668What is Ambiguity Aversion? How does it affect decision making in an organization? What are some of the approaches that can help mitigate its impact?

 

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Ambiguity Aversion:

  • Ambiguity aversion influence the decision of doing something. If I don’t know much about the various options, then I will choose the safest option. Which means, stay away from the situations, where outcomes are unknown
  • In personal saving, I divert the major % of money into FD rather than in stock market. Because i know the returns on the FD (safe option). But by doing this I will miss the higher returns in stock market.
  • If my boss taking some decision, I know that the decision could go wrong but I don’t know how my boss will react to me if I say anything, hence I kept silence during the decision making rather than saying it out.
  • Ambiguity is associated with the feeling of discomfort that we experiment when we cannot predict the other side/outcome.
  • There is an experiment that explains the above concept:
  • The experiment famously known as “Ellsberg Paradox” (Economist – Daniel Ellsberg) to under this concept.
  • In this experiment there are 90 balls filled in the Jar. One ball will be drawn at randomly. Out of 90 balls, 30 balls are red and remaining 60 balls are (black+yellow) balls. The probability of picking red ball is 1/3.
    • Option1) If we pick the red ball we can earn INR 100, else zero.
    • Option 2) If we pick the black ball, we can earn INR 100, else zero
  • In option 1, the chance of winning 100INR is ~33%. But in option2 we don’t know how many black balls are available in the jar. But there could be a chance of 59 black balls in the jar, then chance of winning INR 100 is ~66%. Most of the cases we choose the option1, because we know the chance of winning.
    • Option 3) If we pick either red or yellow we can earn INR 100, else zero
    • Option 4) If we pick either yellow or black we can earn INR 100, else zero
  • In option 3 picking red ball is 33%, but the picking yellow ball we don’t know. But the probability between 33% to 100&. In option 4, the probability of picking yellow or black is 66%, hence the chance of winning is 66%. We tend to choose option 4 rather than option 3 when we don’t know the outcome.
  • The Ellsberg Paradox, in its elegant simplicity, shows our tendency to choose know probabilities even when the unknown could offer a better outcome. This bias (known probability) called Ambiguity aversion.
  • Example1 :While justifying a decision Infront of C Level, generally ambiguity aversion will be increased. While defending one’s decision it will move towards accountability, hence the ambiguity will further increase. When we defend the decision, with huge uncertainty scenario, we have to justify with unknown outcomes.
  • Example2: Sometimes we lack in expertise in particular subject (Coding), ambiguity aversion will be very high. But we are expert, due to the knowledge and experience, we can justify uncertain, unknown outcomes.
  • Example3: Assume that student appeared for online exam. while answering MCQs, he is thinking to select option C, but he doesn’t know whether it is correct or not. Then he checks with chat GPT and selected option A. As per the answer key, the correct answer is Option C. Due to Ambiguity Aversion, he selected the known rather than unknown option. If had a studied well and good knowledge to explain the answer he could have got correct mark for this option. Due to Ambiguity aversion, one might have missed the larger opportunities.
  • Example4: Assume that company launching a new sustainable packing product anti-microbial paper during covid time in the market. Company has studied well about the target customers, location, segments. If the company launches to only medical segment, it is well and good, they will get expected revenue and margin. But companies should explore the other markets such as note books, copier paper, food packaging segment to get the higher margin. Because company never know, whether they succeed or fail in newer markets (Can get higher margin). They tend to choose known markets, which will give marginal profits (Due to competition)
  • Example 5: In Many restaurants, we tend to order the known dishes, because there is no sufficient information not available in the menu card about the how the dish or drink going to be. By providing addition information such visuals, taste information which reduce the uncertainty and increase the customer spend

Some of the approaches that can help mitigate its impact.

  • Framing effects: The best way to mitigate the impact of ambiguity aversion is to reframe the alternative choices. Understanding the hidden uncertainties and explore the potential of ambiguity decision
  • Optimistic : highly optimistic people are less ambiguity averse than pessimistic people. because they’re better at considering the benefits of unknown situation
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Ambiguity aversion is a behavior followed or decision made when faced with choices to focus on known risks for which probability of outcomes are known as compared to unknown risks for which probability of outcomes are unknown. Understanding this concept in much more detail as below:

 

Difference from Risk Aversion:

  • Risk aversion arises when probabilities can be assigned to each possible outcome, and it is defined by the preference between a risky alternative and its expected value.
  • Ambiguity aversion, on the other hand, applies when the probabilities of outcomes are unknown. It is defined through the preference between risky and ambiguous alternatives, after controlling for preferences over risk.

Examples:

  • Insurance: People often prefer to pay for insurance rather than face the unknown potential costs of an accident or disaster. Even though the probability of such events may be low, the ambiguity surrounding the possible outcomes and their costs leads people to opt for the certainty of an insurance premium.
  • Investments: Investors may avoid stocks or markets that they perceive as ambiguous due to lack of information or unpredictable outcomes. They prefer investing in bonds or industries they understand well, even if the potential returns are lower.
  • Medical Decisions: Patients might choose not to undergo a medical treatment if the risks and success rates are not well understood. They prefer treatments with known outcomes over newer, potentially better treatments with uncertain outcomes.
  • Career Choices: When choosing a career path, individuals may avoid fields that have uncertain prospects, even if they potentially offer higher rewards. They prefer careers with more predictable outcomes and stability.
  • Product Choices: Consumers often choose familiar products over new ones because the quality and satisfaction level of the new products are unknown. They prefer to stick with brands they trust

Impact on Decision-Making in Organizations:

  • Avoidance of Unknown Options: Ambiguity aversion influences decision-making by leading individuals to avoid options with missing information. People tend to stick to what they know rather than venture into the unknown. This cautious approach can impact organizational decisions.
  • Selective Abstention: In situations of ambiguity, individuals may choose to abstain from making decisions altogether. This can lead to delays or missed opportunities within an organization.
  • Incomplete Contracts: Ambiguity aversion can explain why contracts are often incomplete. Parties prefer to specify known terms rather than venture into uncertain territory.
  • Volatility in Stock Markets: Investors’ ambiguity aversion contributes to stock market volatility. Uncertainty about future events can lead to erratic market behavior.

Mitigating Approaches:

  • Information Gathering: Encourage thorough research and information gathering. The more data available, the less ambiguous a situation becomes.
  • Scenario Analysis: Conduct scenario-based analyses to explore potential outcomes under different conditions. This helps reduce ambiguity by providing a clearer picture of risks.
  • Risk Communication: Transparently communicate uncertainties and risks to decision-makers. Acknowledging ambiguity fosters better decision-making.
  • Diversification: Diversify investments, projects, or strategies. Spreading risk across multiple options can mitigate the impact of ambiguity.
  • Structured Decision Frameworks: Implement decision frameworks that explicitly account for ambiguity. For example, max min expected utility and Choquet expected utility models incorporate ambiguity considerations.

Remember, while ambiguity aversion helps individuals avoid unknown risks, it’s essential to strike a balance. Overly risk-averse behavior can hinder growth and innovation. Organizations should aim for informed decisions while managing uncertainty

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Ambiguity aversion is an irrational tendency to prefer the known over the unknown. We always like to follow known situation even if high cost or investment involved. People always think for potential draw back first rather than benefits which leads to ambiguity aversion.

E.g. If we want to invest INR 10000 and we have two option to choose. Let us take a look.

Option 1: Invest in fixed deposit in back where we can earn 6.5% interest.

Option 2: Invest in mutual fund where risk is there and can earn 6.5% or more annually.

Although there is more chance of higher benefit in second option but people choose option 1 as safest option due to ambiguity aversion.

In an organization where a strategic decision is required then ambiguity aversion plays a critical role for growth of organization. For eg., when a decision to be taken for expansion of business and business has two options. Either expand same product pipeline or introduction of totally new portfolio. A business may have an ambiguity aversion that go ahead with extension of existing pipeline products only although a firm knows that overall profit may be higher in new portfolio.

There are certain way by which one can avoid or overcome ambiguity aversion.

(1)   Implement uncertain decision as pilot project or do small scale trials.

(2)   Focus on benefits rather than comfort.

(3)   Calculate risk factor based on BME analysis.

(4)   Think for back up plan along with implementation

All above are few ways amongst many by which one can overcome ambiguity aversion and can take fruitful business decision.

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Ambiguity Aversion -

Ambiguity Aversion is choosing a known option rather than an unknown with the attitude of being safe than sorry

How it affect decision-making in an organization?

1.       Legacy system and new system

In the organization, we have system “X” (a Homegrown system with fewer of the latest security features) for policy booking which can serve simple and complex of complex policies functionality-wise whereas there is a new system “Y” purchased to improve information security and latest features and some count of policies are booked. Due to inadequate information about the new system “Y” and whether this new system will be able to service complex policies or not, the business side of management is not confident and both systems are running in parallel and have major overheads.

 

2.       Credit card business:

Company “X” offers a credit card offer that mentions 20,000 bonus miles whereas company “Y” offers an AED 500 welcome bonus. Now due to insufficient/unknown information about how much 20,000 bonus miles correspond in AED or whether we have requirements to spend such bonus points and where to spend and all. People choose an AED 500 welcome bonus, in the actual case be 20,000 bonus points may equivalent to more than 500 AED but the decision goes toward known information

 

Approaches to mitigate its impact:

1.       Knowing more about the known options available and if found that a known option might have so many risks then the optimistic person might prepare the other option

2.       Building brand  – Like Apple mobile – customers can make decisions based on the price and features expected and do not think whether this version is riskier or less risky

3.        Social media reviews are another influencing factor for customers to decide about product options and hence adequately addressing customer needs and gathering social media reviews can mitigate aversion risk to a certain extent

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Let’s take an example of a Job opportunity to decide and accept the offer. Job A offers a steady salary of INR 50 Lakhs and Job B offers a salary b/w INR 40 lakhs to 60 lakhs depending on how well the company does. Job A is like a safe spot because you know exactly what you are getting, while Job B is riskier because the outcome is uncertain.

Ambiguity Aversion means oyu might lean towards Job A because you prefer the certainity of a fixed salary, even if Job B could potentially offer more money in a good year, you are avoiding the uncertainity of Job B, even it means passing up on a better oppurtunity 

Now, in an organization, ambiguity aversion can affect the decision-making too. For example, lets say a company is considering investing in a new techology. The technology either be a game changer and bring big profits, or it could flop and make lose money.  Some decision makers might hesitate to invest because they are uncomfortable with the uncertainity of whether it scucees or not.

To reduce the risk of the Ambiguity Aversion, organization can consier the following 

1.    Providing the training to help decision makers to understand how to manage risks and make decisions even when outcomes are uncertain. Its like giving them the tool to manage the unknown
2.    Encourage a culture where it okay to try new things, even if they might not give the complete 100% results. This way, less people feel scared of taking risks for a better results and making decisions in uncertain situations
3.    Consult experienced subject matter experts and their experiences, their prespectives to get a better understanding of the situation, its like asking an advise from an expert or a good friend who have been in similar situation befor
4.    Making sure everyone has clear information about the risks and rewards of different options so they can make better informed decisions. Its like makins sure everyone knows the rules of the game before playing the game

By considering all these, the organization can help people feel more comfortable with uncertainty and make better decisions, even when outcomes aren’t crystal clear

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