Thursday, January 19, 2017

Facts – What a Pain in the You-Know-What

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. - Mark Twain

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. - John Adams

I took a break from a phenomenally hectic schedule this morning to skim the social media world and once again I was reminded “Why did I do that?”.

In skimming the world of the interesting, the dull, the respectful, the disrespectful, the intellectual and the ignorant, I happened to make an observation along the lines of “For the women who are protesting all the bad things that they know President Elect Trump will do to them, why can’t they put the same energy into all of the areas that we know for certain where women are not being treated respectfully (or live in fear of their Life)?”.

Seems like a fair enough question to me – why don’t we put our effort into EVERYTHING that we are aware of that challenges a woman’s rights to equality and safety?

The blowback from this observation tells me that I was wrong for daring to believe that all women who face difficulty should be defended and for that I apologize.

I was accosted by three people I have known for a long time, citing a lot of interesting “facts” to prove that in fact, I’m completely out of touch.

For example ….

Did you know that Trump is going to revoke all rights for woman in the US, subjecting them to second-class (or lower if that’s possible) citizenship?

Did you know that he will also do the same for all gay people and reverse all the gains the LGBTQ community has made over the years?

Did you ALSO know that he will receive a cash payment of $1 Billion from Vladimir Putin for every Baltic state that America allows Russia to take unchallenged?

I didn’t know these things and for that, I must apologize again.  I appear to be the last person on Earth to know these things.  It is difficult, after all, to live a normal, busy, productive, non-paranoid, non-conspiracy-laden, contributing Life and not be in-the-know regarding everything that everyone might do just because someone says they will do it.  I could digress into a conversation regarding projection from a psychiatrist viewpoint but alas much has been written about this by people much smarter and informed on the subject than I.

When I asked for sources to be cited (I’m a data guy, after all), then the “discussion” turned towards my ignorance of facts and that my demands for data were always inappropriate.

One person who I demanded data of insisted that he couldn’t predict the future.  When I replied that predicting a new version of the Iran Contra deal (cash for Baltic state invasion) was in fact a prediction, the conversation devolved into me being an idiot because I dared to even ask such questions without accepting everyone’s claims at face value.

I always thought great claims demanded great evidence, but again, I’m wrong and for that, I apologize again for believing that I was entitled to an opinion and for not asking for permission to share it with anyone who might disagree or be offended by it.

Data Matters

As a strategy guy, data matters to me.  People in my field use a blend of data, past performance, models and yes, emotions and biases in predicting things as best as we can.

However, no matter how strong our emotions and biases are, if we can’t find data to use, most of us have to wait before we jump up and down in elation or cower in fear just because someone or something doesn’t appear to be in alignment with our desires, interests, values, characters and/or morals.

We also believe in the checks and balances in place in the system to prevent people from going over the top and violating rights and freedoms that we hold sacred.

If someone deviates from that in a way that we consider unacceptable, we believe the system will take care of it.  If the system doesn’t want or choose to address such behavioral aberrations, we have a MUCH larger problem than just the paranoid anticipation of what one man might do.

And so as I reflected on the conversation, it occurs to me that respectful, fact-based, minimally-biased (there is not such thing as nonbiased) conversation doesn’t appear to exist much in society any more.

Why is this?

I believe it is because we don’t teach such skills, assuming that such abilities will naturally evolve in the members of our society.

However, since we are the products of our environment, the likelihood of such abilities evolving without being taught are slim to none. In fact, such people would be seen as the exception and not the norm and we all know how people who stand out make us feel.

If you don’t believe me, try saying something factual (in a loaded space, e.g.politics) on social media and let me know how that experiment goes.

However, if you want to read a great book on evidence-based, minimally-biased dialog, how to create such a dialog and how to defend against someone who abhors such dialog, I highly recommend the book How To Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass - A Critical Thinker's Guide to Asking the Right Questions.

It is brilliant, insightful and witty (and, shudder, fact-based).  If it were embraced by more people, society would be better equipped to solve the problems in the world. 

On a side note, I know that if the author, Dr. DiCarlo, were present during my argument this morning, he would have loved how I handled it and would have praised my responses.

How do I know this?

I just know – you’re an idiot if you don’t agree with me.

Calm down – I’m kidding (someone is already writing a response to me, having been offended by what I just said and unwilling to see how my thoughts unfold).

The Bottom Line

It is ok to not know everything in the world. 

But before we champion something as a truth, we should know that it is in fact true.  If we use truth as a hammer, we should at least know that we can back up our claims with verifiable data (and even then, there are more persuasive techniques than hammering people).

There’s an old “Newfie” joke (I’m from Newfoundland, don’t get offended by the term on my behalf) that goes this way:

How do you keep a Newfoundlander in suspense?

I will tell him tomorrow.

There is another joke that goes the same way.

How do you make the bully, the manipulator and the ignorant angry?

Ask them for data to backup their claims or the hammer that they are using.

Humble, normal, balanced people will acknowledge their mistakes, apologize if necessary, adjust their behavior where appropriate and the world is a little better as a result.

Others fall to the lowest form of dialog and debate, using the personal attack against someone else because they have nothing else to offer in backing up their claims and assertions.

The funny thing is that such people believe that those of us who demand data are a pain in the ass.

The reality is that these people are the real pain in the ass, creating a world where problem elimination, solution finding, collaboration and the like play second fiddle to promoting fear, disrespect, intimidation and the like under the guise of “making the world better”.

Buy Dr. DiCarlo’s book.  You will not be disappointed and will be equipped to make your world and the world of others a better place.

In fact, you’re an idiot if you don’t buy it and absolutely love it.

Just kidding.

Or maybe I’m not.

I guess it depends on what type of dialog you like to participate in – the problem solving kind or the problem creating kind.

Create a great day!  Make a positive difference – it matters.

In service and servanthood,


Irony: It is ironic that the people who claim to be defending the rights and freedoms of others are often in fact the people who deny that right in others.  It is also ironic that the people who claim to be upholding the highest of moral and ethical standards are in fact guilty of things themselves.  One of my most vocal critics today was investigated for violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a fact that if revealed would prompt an immediate liable suit (even though it's a fact and not a rumor).

It's an interesting concept that we allow facts to slide when criticizing others but we demand the highest standards of others when defending our own truths. I wonder if these people put as much energy into their careers, families, friends, hobbies, service to others and knowledge acquisition as they do spreading rumor, conjecture and fear.  We must also be careful to avoid being hypocritical as in the case of Meryl Streep who applauded Roman Polanski (who plead guilty to unlawful sex with a minor and fled the country to avoid incarceration) for his Oscar win while denouncing Donald Trump as a man who has no respect for women.

Author note: I am NOT a Trump supporter. If I have wound you up convincing you that I am pro-Trump, save your breath before sending me hate mail. However, I prefer to see what he will create and would participate in using the checks and balances in the system to stop him if he screws up. I don't have the time nor the interest to waste my brain wondering what he might do and spread hatred and fear to support such unproductive exercises.

PS A few years back before oil prices went into the toilet, myself and a number of other colleagues sent messages to Provincial Governments in Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador cautioning them to adjust budget expectations because oil was about to fall precipitously.  We provided projections of $75 a barrel or lower, provided data and cited sources from within the energy and financial sectors.  We were told to stop fear mongering and in response, we asked for data to refute our warning.  We never heard back from them and when their economies went into the toilet, we were not surprised to hear them announce how surprised they were by the turn of events in the energy sector.

Last week, a Minister in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador shared some intentions with me and I asked what data supported their intentions.  I didn’t say that their intentions were right or wrong but was curious what data they used.  The reply was that if people like me were as smart as we claimed (I never claimed anything) then there would be no need for the government to have to solve problems in the first place.

I see – I guess I owe the people of Newfoundland and Labrador an apology also since I am now responsible for the economic disaster in progress out there.

I’m now feeling very guilty and inadequate – maybe I should submit to those who appear to know better.

Unfortunately, they shout louder but not more intelligently.

The Bottom Bottom Line

Being caught off guard by a surprise event is forgivable.

Lying or insulting people because data suggests something politically or publicly unsavory and unpopular is about to happen (or not happen) is not forgivable.

That’s the problem with data.

It doesn’t care about how you feel about it and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

It only makes the problem worse or creates a problem if we project using emotion or bias in absence of data

And once we know a problem exists (or we create one), WE become the larger problem if we choose not to do our best to address it as strategically, factually, respectfully and collaboratively as we can.

Take a Valium

Gwynne Dyer wrote a great article urging everyone to calm down regarding President Elect Trump.  It can be found here - Everybody Take a Valium.