Reading Week – Adapt – Tim Harford

Another book with all the neat explanations of things in the order I think about them! I’going to have to look harder for ideas that challenge my own. I relish hearing about people that defied orders and came through anyway whether in Iraq or business. Though it is interesting that essentially the claim is that really does ruin your career.

Fall in behind the leader and you will get praised, whistleblow about Halifax’s “cash or cabbages” and you be fired by the CEO who will get put in charge of the regulator. Having a good idea and being right is usually ruinous. See Johannesburg Gutenberg or Peter Palchinsky.

That said experiments in following others like the 3-line experiment show that a voice believed to be from a blind man even if spouting another wrong answer enables us to override a 10 strong unanimous wrong oppinion. Playing devil’s advocate has some advantages then even if one is spouting nonsense. However, fundamentally yes-men and yes-women do tend to get rewarded.

Variability, Survivability an Measurability. That is try lots of things but make sure the inevitable failures will not be ruinous and make sure you will know when you failed.

Failure to review the medical evidence on “front sleeping” statistically caused 60,000 infant deaths. What a tragedy. The recommendation seemed innocuous but had real consequences and could have been identified as wrong 19 years earlier.

Meta-analyses can be really bad. The official log of the ship that discovered the Vitamin C link to scurvy notes only two illnesses but the experimenters diary records six men as dying. A meta-analysis would not have known citrus cures scurvy.

It’s important to try and not think of oneself first. When rejecting the idea of controlled experiments an aid workers quote, “It pains me to be in a village that doesn’t have bed nets” caused me to real sadness. As if the aid worker closing his eyes to the lack of bed nets made them appear. For sure bed nets are fine but the objective is less children with Malaria!

Of course it is better to design better systems than hope for better people yet still we try, though I was surprised that on Deepwater Horizon computers (perhaps to fully ensure their operators grasp the situations severity) explode!

The self employed are happier because they get validation whenever their invoices are paid perhaps this explains why I enjoy delivering software features to the Underwriting Assistants that say thank you!

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