Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Psychokinesis and Cellphones–Understanding Cause and Effect

I’ve come across an interesting phenomena with my cell phone battery that I find to be quite intriguing.  As far as I can tell, the more pressure I am under, the faster my cellphone battery runs down.

If I were enterprising enough, I would engage in a government / university study to explore why this is the case and how widespread the phenomenon is.

If my study were to produce a result similar to the many that David Freedman documents in his great book Wrong, I would probably come up with one of the following as the reason for my hastened battery depletion:

1. When I am under pressure, my brain emits strong brainwaves that interfere with my cellphone, thus fouling the battery in some way.

2. When I am under pressure, my brain experiences an energy deficit and draws power from my cellphone battery.

3. I may be a member of a select group of people known as sliders whose very existence interferes with electrical / electronic components.

However, I might overlook the obvious cause of my battery depletion.

4. When I am under pressure, I fiddle with my phone a lot more, thereby running the battery down.

As in this example, using exotic hypothesis to explain away our problems often sound a lot more exciting than the actual problem  definition and therein lies a problematic temptation.

In such situations, a deliberate or accidental misinterpretation or over-complication of cause and effect often lead to the creation of projects that appear to be more glamorous, challenging or resource intensive than is warranted or projects that are a lot more frustrating than they should be. 

With that in mind, people either happily run off in the wrong direction to solve the wrong problem without giving it a second thought or remain mired in “why isn’t this working better” syndrome.

Either scenario could be avoided if the people holding the problem stopped for a moment and asked the right questions, using the right data to answer those questions.

Some examples from my journey

a. A local church, while lamenting the fact that only 10% of their parishioners attend service on a regular basis, wonder what’s wrong with the people who are not attending instead of asking themselves what they can do to attract more people.  The church is suffering financially as they wait for the other 90% to magically come to their senses and start attending weekly service.

b. A business entity that is running a project with two agendas, a public and a private one, that are diametrically opposed to each other and create confusion as a result.  Despite the obvious issue of the conflicting agendas, the leaders constantly express high levels of frustration (and anger) that their team members and the user community always seemed confused for some reason unknown to everyone.

c. A certain charity whose leadership staff members make over $250K each per year and yet they can’t understand why more people don’t want to work for free for such a great community-minded charity.  They are blind to the conflicting message being sent out of deep coffers for internal staff versus an impoverished, barely-getting-by charity status that is projected to outsiders.

While it’s easy to quote Occam’s Razor in these and other situations, the belief that all thing’s being equal, the simplest solution is most likely the right one, the truth is that the real answers can be found in being able to ask the right questions … or allowing an objective observer to ask the right questions.  As an aside, I mused about “Asking Questions That Get Answered” here.

Having allowed the difficult questions to be asked, the second part of the solution is to put one’s ego in check long to enough to listen to the dialog that ensues.

That’s when the real breakthrough occurs.

Now if you will excuse me, I’ve noticed that as my current deadlines approach, my cellphone appears to be levitating about a foot above my desk.

It must be the draft blowing in from the window.

In service and servanthood,


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