It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. - Arthur Conan Doyle
People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. - Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Black Swan Principle #3 (from “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”)
Some years ago, I was walking home from the office very late with a colleague and while we knew the streets of Brooklyn warranted a cab at that hour, we chose to walk to the subway station. Along the way, we were confronted by a group of young men who, through word and action, made it clear that they were taking our money and then beating us up (or worse).
Since I had just been informed that I was about to be beaten up or killed regardless of whether or not I turned my wallet over to them, I informed the group that they were welcome to take my wallet but in the process, I would kill the first guy that approached me.
They laughed and informed me that given that we were outnumbered, I couldn’t take on all of them to which I replied that I didn’t have to take on all of them – my intention was to kill the first one.
They looked at each other, exchanged a few words, someone yelled “Let’s get the F*^# out of here” and they ran down the street.
We weren’t worth the risk.
As we hastily made our way to the subway, my colleague told me that I had a lot of guts. I laughed nervously and told him to tell me that again after my knees stopped shaking. When he asked me why I had taken that approach, I responded by telling him that based on what I saw, certain realities were present, not all of which were known to the other side:
- Regardless of what happened, my colleague and I were going to be beaten up (perhaps killed). This had been expressed by the other group and I believed them. Turning over our wallets, talking our way out of the situation or running away were not going to produce a positive result for us. This was apparent to all present.
- I had enough martial arts training in my background to defend myself against multiple attackers. While talking / buying / running my way out of this situation was preferred, it was clear that none of these actions would produce anything of value for my colleague and I. My training was known only to me.
- If I was going to die anyway, I had no qualms killing the person who had so little respect for me that they would potentially take my Life with no respect for me as a fellow human being. My belief was known only to me.
So, I explained as we rode the subway to the World Trade Center, I had evaluated the data and had come to the conclusion that led me to say what I said.
“Would you have killed someone?”, my colleague asked, wide-eyed with curiosity.
“Absolutely”, I replied, “although it would not have been my preferred intention or result since violence is never a viable solution. However, I assertively placed realities in front of them and allowed them to make their own choices. They made their choice and we are all the better for it.”
“And besides”, I concluded, “I figured if I looked crazier than they were, they might believe me and leave us alone. It worked for Reagan.”
We both laughed at this and our chatter returned to a rehash of the day.
Crazier … or more informed of the realities that were present at the moment.
It’s difficult to tell the difference sometimes.
On a less dramatic level, I tweeted this little ditty yesterday in regards to the current political environment in Alberta and Newfoundland.
<<Note: There are grammar errors. It’s Twitter … stay calm>>
Of the many interactions on different social media platforms and via SMS and email, the single largest group that believed that I was wrong told me I was wrong without asking how I had come to that conclusion. They never asked for the data, analysis, etc. behind the comment. They just said “you’re wrong”.
Intriguingly, they are in large part the people who represent the political parties who are trailing in the polls in their respective provinces.
The problem with their approach is this:
While someone can scream passionately and emotionally about how they perceive their world and their realities, the data and results are screaming louder and don’t support their perception.
Or as someone once humorously noted:
A pessimist sees a dark tunnel.
An optimist sees light at the end of the tunnel.
A realist sees a freight train.
The train engineer sees 3 idiots standing on the tracks.
In such situations, whether in business, politics or Life, it’s ok to have dreams and beliefs as long as your results are in line with those dreams and beliefs.
Because when your dream carries your mind, heart and soul in one direction and the results are clearly taking you physically in another direction, pretending reality is not reality makes you look pretty silly.
The Bottom Line
It is important to trust your heart, your instinct, your faith, your talents, your strengths and the same in your colleagues when facing difficult situations.
However, it is also important to listen to data and reality, especially if someone appears to know something you don’t.
Failure to do so could prove to be fatal.
Many politicians and their minions believe that we can’t handle the truth (that it’s too complicated for mere mortals to understand) or that truth in reality makes everything too complicated for everyone. I would posit that it is these beliefs that are making our world more complicated.
I think that when you examine the motivations and qualifications of many politicians, it becomes clear that in many (not all) situations, we are better equipped to understand the truth than they are.
I think that the people who navigated themselves into a problem (the bus driver as described by Taleb) need to prove with more than emotion that they are worthy and capable of being entrusted with a position of responsibility moving forward.
I think that a winning result is often used to rationalize an approach as being effective (whether this is accurate or not is another thing) whereas rationalizing an approach as being effective when it has produced a losing result is problematic at best.
And finally, I think we have more to gain or lose than politicians do when we (and they) choose to understand or ignore reality.
What do you think?
In service and servanthood,
Addendum – Being a Stickler For Data
As I just noted to a colleague:
When it comes to data, I'm an ass*#&$ ... and I make no apologies about it because actions in absence of data are screwing this planet up.
Follow your passion. Be grounded in reality. Create new realities when you have to but know when it is not possible or when the timing is not right.
Create a great day for yourself and others. Help others. Allow yourself to be helped by others. Make a difference.
The world awaits your gifts and talents – what are you waiting for?