You Cannot Know Everything

Socrates was born about 470 BC. But he didn’t know that. I doubt it had much effect on his life, but you should always be aware there could be important information you don’t have.

If you have an important decision to make and you estimate there are ten important things you should know before proceeding, count on a distribution like this.

  • One of them you cannot know because you don’t have the right history and experience to make sense of it.
  • One of the things you think you know is wrong.
  • There is at least one factor you have not considered in your list.

Even if all the rest are understood and correct, the decision will be better than a guess but not so much better that you can rely on it. The correct approach is to begin with proto-decisions when you have four or five factors under control and add others as you can understand the variables. Make a test decision and see what you need to improve it.

You learn from the test decisions, and you know they are not perfect. You are still learning, so that is not confusing or threatening.

As you learn more, the designs get better, but maybe not perfect. There will always be a space between what you know and what you should know. That is risk. In every case, there will be a risk because of what you don’t know, can’t know and some variables are misunderstood or wrong.

When you can accept the risk that remains and recognize how it arises, you can decide and move on.

Perfect is an unreasonable goal. Working towards an excellent solution is possible.


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software startup, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning and business matters. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Federal Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com.

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