I am wired to discount people who have total assuredness in their point-of-view, have dogmatic positions or use data as a crutch or substitute for logic. I appreciate people who have strong opinions or conviction but expect them to constantly be testing their opinions and refining their approaches as they encounter new people, facts or logic.

I have long believed that humans (myself included) err on the side of over-confidence in their own abilities and thoughts. Thus one of my favorite sayings is

Strong opinions, weakly held

Years ago when I worked with my dear friend Carlo Gagliardi he used to say that “it took three bullets to kill you, Mark.” He told me I was stubborn and opinionated and if he brought me a weak argument but didn’t have enough evidence to support his position he would get pushed back. He would then bring some basic facts to prove that I wasn’t seeing things correctly but I wouldn’t budge without compelling logic. But he knew that if he had real conviction, if the facts were on his side and if he could build enough logic with his data or facts he could eventually win. Three bullets.

Weak-sauce arguments fall on deaf ears with me and sloppy logic annoys me to the point of frustration. A well-mounted case and I drop my defenses and embrace what I hadn’t seen before. Coming back with an empty chamber for the third battle is much worse than not coming back.

I was influenced heavily before my career even began because in my undergraduate work I took a ton of statistics classes that showed how easily we human brains fall prey to easy biases and slights of data and try to draw conclusions that don’t exist.

Thus when I read “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” in my early 20’s it reinforced my belief about how people are fooled by data. Given enough performance over time any number of random people will be proven “right” about a market and if you look back in time you can believe that they had a method to their outcomes. If you have hundreds of millions of people and you do 20 rounds of coin flips in a row there will be some people who were right every time and we can be quick to ascribe these people as geniuses rather than being right by chance.

Even worse, when I was a strategy consultant I learned how easily data could be manipulated to prove just about any reasonable thesis and how a well-structured argument lined with data or pseudoscience could persuade large groups of people of dubious conclusions.

I wrote about these experiences 7 years ago in a post I titled

“73.6% of all Statistics are Made Up”

My summary is an example I use often: when I consumed reports from Goldman Sachs about the future predictions of mobile phone penetration for a report I was working on for a client I would call the analyst to ask how she calculated her data because I wanted to be sure of my conclusions. She told me she got it from Gartner Group. I called that analyst and he told me that he was in a rush to calculate future estimates and his boss told him that saying that the next 3 years would be the same growth rate as the past three years wouldn’t get headlines so he was encouraged to show 8% CAGRs rather than 5%. Ultimately the Goldman Sachs report gets picked up by a journalist who writes a hyperbolic headline with emphatic conclusions because nobody wants to read that tomorrow will be just like today.

So a degree of skepticism, critical thinking and understanding data biases are always in order.

In my 30’s I devoured “Fooled by Randomness” and fell in love with the writing style of Nassim Nicolas Taleb as it re-informed my belief system in being a disbeliever. He used a self-referential term I had never heard before, which is that he is a “skeptical empiricist” and that has always stuck with me.

Article credit : bothsidesofthetable.com

There are currently no comments.