But, What If We’re Wrong

There are so many absolutes these days. Global warming is a perfect example. Let’s assume that we proceed with getting rid of all fossil fuels and put fossil fuel out of business worldwide. Then, global warming doesn’t happen, and we actually have an ice age. Often, many of the things that we make decisions on today take years to play out.

Would the advocates say they were wrong if global warming doesn’t happen? Or would they rationalize the decisions? Conversely, if we do nothing, and it gets hotter, would detractors rationalize the decisions?

My bet is they would rationalize the decisions.

When I was trading, we used to use absolutes all the time when we made trading decisions.  But, once you were in the trade you had to constantly monitor information to make sure your initial hypothesis was correct.  When things changed, you had to change otherwise you lost money.  There are times to be headstrong, and times to be flexible.  The thing about trading is there was liquidity so it was far easier to maneuver when you made a mistake.  You could turn losers into scratches and sometimes into winners.

Startups are like this too.  Except, there isn’t liquidity.  With all the data sifting that we do, there is a great amount of “feel” that goes into being a CEO.  You have to be in the moment, and feel what’s working and kill what is not.  Having a principles based approach to leading a startup is a lot better than having hard and fast rules.  It allows for flexibility.

The other day, Northwestern professor David Rucker and his coauthors—David Dubois of INSEAD and Adam Galinsky of Columbia University put out a study on persuasion that dovetails perfectly with the podcast I posted. They found that audiences who felt powerful were more swayed by pitches that focused on competence and skillfulness, whereas those who felt powerless were more persuaded by pitches that emphasized warmth and sincerity. This research challenges a long-discussed assumption that powerful people always hold sway and powerless people are always easier to bend.

The internet is awesome. Mosaic was invented and debuted yesterday. Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina developed it at the University of Illinois. It unleashed the true power of the internet.

But, in the podcast opening they assert opening the Internet also created a lot of noise. All of a sudden, people that couldn’t participate could. All the information creates confusion. I love this Wall Street Journal comparison of Facebook feeds depending on if you are a liberal or a conservative. Because sites like Facebook and Google have a liberal bias, and because they are filtering for us, it affects everyone’s world view. It affects how they get information as well.

Too often when we are in the moment we see things as black and white. Seeing grey is hard. It takes time and it seems no one has time for anything anymore.  This is why there shouldn’t be absolutes in public policy.  Public policy should be pushing freedom of choice out to citizens, and it should be based on principles.  If you start with principles, then there is discussion, and grey areas.  People are happier.

Too often, we are too confident about our decisions.  We are too confident about our opinions.  A great mantra is “strong opinions loosely held”.  I remember a sign in my father’s office that said, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”  The problem today is deciphering what are real facts and what aren’t.  Too often, we only consider the ones that fit our world view and we attack and deride others.

America is not only descending into a chaos because of bad government policy.  It’s descending into chaos because there is no tolerance.  The ones that win are stridently enforcing their victory with violence and discrimination.  They don’t want to co-exist, they seek to destroy.  Put a Republican candidate bumper sticker on your car in California and see what happens.  Come out with an opinion on Twitter that is against the populist thought.  This happens in politics, but it also happens in business, economics, science, and other areas where true give and take debate need to happen.

This is an awesome podcast to listen to. It’s long, but it’s really interesting. What if they are wrong? : )

  • David Van Dam

    As many famous people (from Mark Twain to Yogi Berra) have said: “Predictions are difficult, especially about the future.”

  • awaldstein

    Good post but after a career in startups my experience is different.

    The only thing that is clear in startup is your vision and belief, every single action you make from there on is grey.