Book review: Uncertainty

As part of an ongoing discussion about contributing to the DFIR community, I’m offering a book review. It speaks to the “fear of failure” noted by numerous forensicators, and the excuses we all make up to avoid pain. Whether you’re a small business owner, a researcher, or someone with an idea you’ve hesitated to put out there: this is for you.

The need to embrace uncertainty

Jonathan Fields hooked me in the first chapter of his book Uncertainty by describing why uncertainty matters:

 When you begin, nothing is certain save the drive to create something worth the effort….

Not knowing on day one how it’s going to end or what it will look like when it’s complete can be paralyzing for many. It’s brutally hard to act in the face of incomplete information or assurances that you’re on the right path. But it’s that very lack of assurance that also serves as proof that the journey you’re embarking on is not derivative. That the quest and the potential outcome are unique. That both will matter.”

Fields holds up inventors, technologists, artists and business owners as his examples; the book is geared toward creatives rather than any one way of making money. That’s important for DFIR practitioners, for whom forensication is as much art as science: applying the science in (ethically) creative ways, and creating new ways to refine the science.

But there’s a difference between creating for one’s own use, and creating (or communicating your creation) for everyone’s benefit. The latter is riskier, and potentially much more rewarding. Later on, in Chapter 9, Fields asks the reader to consider doing nothing at all:

In reality, there is no sideways in life…. There’s only up or down…. if you’re teetering on the edge of happiness, health, liquidity, and contentment now and if you’re stuck in a “do nothing to change” scenario, then ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, your creative life, your business, and your body of work will likely be somewhere between really unpleasant and really dead.”

He reminded me of why I quit my job over 10 years ago to become a freelance writer, and why I later convinced my husband to let me try full-time self-employment: the status quo wasn’t a happy place to be. Ultimately, I wanted our children to have the example of adults who strove for happiness and fulfillment.

Embrace uncertainty, unleash creativity

Between Chapters 1 and 9, Fields goes into detail about what it takes to “lean into” uncertainty as you pursue your dreams and goals. He effectively dissects the fear of failure and gives the reader tools to nurture creativity, to the point where it becomes possible to change plans when needed.

And so, after describing both the physiology and the psychology of uncertainty, Fields devotes several chapters to two main concepts:

  1. training mind and body through the routines of meditation and exercise, which help the creator release work from his/her mind
  2. “socializing creation,” which provides the creator with a way to get feedback even as a work is in progress.

I can think of many forensicators to whom exercise is a critical part of success, and I’m implementing Fields’ recommendations in my own daily life as a creative. However, it’s the latter concept I want to focus on, because it speaks directly to the “community” discussion.

A forensicator’s fear of looking stupid or failing is not, on its face, all that irrational. Who wouldn’t worry about how one’s employer or a courtroom will react to the disclosure that you don’t have all the answers?

But contributing to the community is not about giving something up; it’s about a give-and-take of knowledge and skill. You would not have gotten to where you are without others’ help (no matter how alone you felt at times).

Therefore, worrying about how other forensicators will react is not rational. The conversation from the last few weeks demonstrates a ready-made “hive” of trusted professionals. These people will offer feedback and advice towards anyone’s goal of creating something useful, be it a piece of software or a presentation. Do the work, and you’ll get the support.

Make it a closed hive, if you must; I’ve experienced the nasty side of hypercompetition, and the DFIR industry has no shortage of it. But Fields argues that we need judgment in order to be valuable, that creativity needs constraint to birth something useful. Involve others early on, and not only do you get that constraint; you also get the support and validation you’re fearful you won’t get.

Committing to your calling

“How committed are you to the specific endeavor?” Fields asks. “Is it a project or a calling, the thing you can’t not do? Understanding the difference informs the choices you make, but it also changes the way you act in a thousand tiny ways. It changes your personal energy and leads people either to buy in on an extraordinary level or to view your quest as something not all that important.”

In life we are all driven by the desire to be important, in varying degrees. For some, being important to one’s own children is the highest calling. For others, it’s importance to the local community as a public safety professional, journalist, or business owner. Others want to be important to a cause, such as stamping out cybercrime.

Contributing to the community is as much about self as it is about the group. Paradoxically, protecting self from the pain of failure ultimately starves self along with community; whereas contributing feeds both self and community, nurturing knowledge for all.

Edited: Over on Google+, Gregory Pendergast asked me for a more direct assessment of the book itself. Here’s what I told him:

It’s positive and practical. Nothing “The Secret”-ish about it; I was a little surprised to see such an emphasis on meditation (“attentional training”) but even that resonated because I have experienced brief times when deep contemplation or focus on exercise  (for instance, swimming) worked exactly as Fields was saying it does.

The writing itself is clean and direct, and I liked that Fields would state an idea early on, then circle back around to it once it had had a chance to percolate in the back of my head. Chapters built nicely on each other, and the book has stuck with me in the weeks since I read it, like quiet encouragement to stick with the good habits.

With thanks to Conversation Agent Valeria Maltoni for her generous gift of Uncertainty. Here’s her Amazon affiliate link if you like what you’ve read and want more.

3 thoughts on “Book review: Uncertainty

  1. Nice review! Makes me want to add it to the pile of books awaiting time to read them 🙂

    The approach sounds similar to Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, which has been adopted by many creatives (using that term in the very broadest possible terms) as a guide. If you’ve read it, care to compare and contrast?

    I also found Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak” useful and thought provoking along the same lines. YMMV; I’m sure it’s a matter of right place, right time, right book…

  2. Thanks Ray! I have not read Cameron, though when I was regularly writing fiction, many many of my peers referred to “The Artist’s Way.” I guess I never picked it up because I didn’t have problems with the muse; for me it was more a matter of the “constraint” part of the equation, the realization of the idea. And the only way to get to that was practice.

    I like that “Uncertainty” can be thought of as a business book — the part that comes before the business, or the transition between the idea and the actualization, if that makes sense.

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