The Nirvana Fallacy and Why Probability Beats Certainty

The principle of the Nirvana Fallacy holds that if perfection can’t be attained, why bother trying?

It’s easy to associate this with business cultures that are intolerant of failure or averse to new ideas. But certainty is also demanded from more forgiving organizational cultures.

On the face of it, this expectation of certainty seems reasonable. If you are to invest a great deal of time and effort into a particular venture, shouldn’t you be very certain, or at least very close to it?

But can one ever be absolutely certain of anything? We are all subject to our own biases and wishful thinking; we fill gaps of evidence with intuition and still we make decisions when they are required.

Machine learning and the predictions it produces present huge opportunities for businesses, but the results will rarely provide perfect certainty. Rather, they provide probabilities of outcomes. This requires a new mathematical vocabulary for business people in terms of how strategies are formulated, communicated, and carried forward.


Why Probability Beats Certainty

Instead of waiting for the one big thing with certainty, a business can place smaller bets on programs with known probabilities of success. The simple cost versus probability calculation means one can always be on the right side of the outcomes by executing on activities that before would never have been considered.

How is all this possible? The AI technologies that beat Gary Kasparov in 1997 (and arguably passed the Turing Test in the context of chess) and today power Siri, Alexa and Pandora are all probability-based. Massive inputs of data are crunched down to a single outcome/answer - the one that is (most probably) correct.

Imagine using all the data your business collects to calculate the probability of a certain marketing program working, or the effect of a price-decrease on customer retention and acquisition.

All this is very possible and closer in reach than ever before.

Deducive is bringing machine learning and AI to businesses of all sizes to simplify and solve seeming intractable problems.

While competitors seek certainty and rely upon old ways of thinking, forward looking companies can leap ahead by being on the correct side of probabilities.

Contact us at to learn how we can (with a high degree of probability) help you.