PESA QLD Luncheon “Making Good Decisions under Uncertainty” – Prof. Steve Begg

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On a sweaty Tuesday morning in Brisbane’s February, a diverse group of industry individuals piled eagerly into a training room at Santos’ office, ready to improve their abilities to “Make Good Decisions under Uncertainty”. Under the wise tutelage of Prof. Steve Begg, a man whose experience in the industry and in academia totals more years than most of our student members, participants from companies including Arrow, Central, Geosolve, Santos, Senex, Shell, and others, quickly found out that decision-making is more complex than a first glance would suggest.

Opening the course with a questionnaire revealed just how dire the situation was. We quickly learned that everyone considers themselves a better than average driver, anchoring numbers are a thing, positive test results for Some Rare Horrible Disease (SRHD) aren’t as bad as they seem, and you’re more likely to be killed by falling airplane parts in the U.S. than by a shark. The message was clear: intuition is overrated. Our eyes were open. We were ready to learn. In reality, the onslaught was only just beginning. It turns out that we’re shockingly bad at estimating uncertainty ranges, as well.

“Don’t feel bad,” Steve reassures us, “it’s pretty much the same everywhere.” He proceeds to show us the remarkably similar results of hundreds of exercises in the same vein, and with that, the education begins.

Steve’s course was an exercise in enlightenment, highlighting the need to properly understand the tools of decision-making available to us both in our daily lives and our work in industry. He emphasises decision-making as a skill to be practiced and polished, and stresses the use of unambiguous language around the description of uncertainty. What percentage of uncertainty would you assign to the terms “probable”, “likely”, or “proved”? It turns out that, somewhat unsurprisingly when you think about it, these terms mean vastly different things to different people.

In summary, Prof. Steve Begg’s course on Making Good Decisions is an excellent primer for understanding the application of decision-making processes to both industry and life in general, and PESA QLD was honoured to host him this year in Brisbane. We look forward to having him return in the future!

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