Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Sun, 23 Aug 2015 17:54:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 Looks Can Be Deceiving: 10 Sentences with Heteronyms http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/23/10-sentences-with-heteronyms/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/23/10-sentences-with-heteronyms/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2015 17:54:20 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5394 The local dump was so overflowing that it had to refuse refuse. If you’re like most people, that sentence looks wrong. After all, it has the same word repeated twice in a row. Most of us assume it can’t be proper grammar. While it’s true that repeated words usually are bad grammar, in this case...

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The local dump was so overflowing that it had to refuse refuse.

If you’re like most people, that sentence looks wrong. After all, it has the same word repeated twice in a row. Most of us assume it can’t be proper grammar.

While it’s true that repeated words usually are bad grammar, in this case there are two different words spelled identically. Read the sentence again: the first refuse is a verb meaning deny while the second is a noun meaning trash.

Heteronyms are words spelled identically but with different meanings and pronunciations. There are lots of heteronyms in the English language. Since they have different pronunciation, you wouldn’t notice them in everyday speech.

Things are a bit trickier in writing – especially if English isn’t your first language. But usually there’s enough context to figure out the right pronunciation and meaning. Here are ten examples:

  • I wound a bandage around my wound.
  • The chair was so close to the door we couldn’t close it.
  • Don’t just give the gift; present the present.
  • The Polish man decided to polish his table.
  • When he wrecked his moped, he moped all day.
  • She shed a tear because she had a tear in her shirt.
  • Farmers reap what they sow to feed it to the sow.
  • How much produce does the farm produce?
  • More people desert in the desert than in the mountains.
  • The researcher wanted to subject the subject to a psychology test.

Did any of these sentences trip you up?

If people add more examples of heteronyms in the comments, I will be more content with the content of this blog.

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Eight Ways to Say No In Any Situation http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/16/eight-ways-to-say-no/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/16/eight-ways-to-say-no/#comments Sun, 16 Aug 2015 19:31:10 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5369 When I posted a list of quotes on prioritization and saying no, I was surprised how quickly it became my most viewed post of the year. I obviously touched on a nerve. I also received more than a dozen emails about the post; most of them went something like this: I want to say no to things but...

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When I posted a list of quotes on prioritization and saying no, I was surprised how quickly it became my most viewed post of the year. I obviously touched on a nerve. I also received more than a dozen emails about the post; most of them went something like this:

I want to say no to things but I don’t know how. And I want to do it politely.

It’s a fair point. After all, the word ‘no’ is – by definition – negative.

In my experience, people have trouble saying no and usually provide noncommittal answers like “I’ll see if I can do that” or “Let me get back to you”. These answers often mask the fact they already know they can’t or don’t want to do something. Rather than stringing someone along, it would be much better to offer a clear ‘no’ immediately. As Tom Friel said, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’”

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown suggests you need a repertoire of ways of saying no which you can tailor to the specific situation. Here’s my assessment of McKeown’s eight ways to say no:

  1. The awkward pause.
    If you count to three before answering no, the requestor is likely to assume you’ve given the request careful consideration. Sometimes, the requestor might even retract the request.
  2. The soft no (or the “no but”).
    This can be an effective technique if you are clear you cannot agree to the request as framed but you could agree if something changed (perhaps at a later date or a smaller time commitment).
  3. Use e-mail bouncebacks.
    One of my colleagues turns on his email “out of the office” notification when he’s feeling particularly overwhelmed, even though he’s not out of the office. This way he’s not expected to respond to any requests – at least not quickly.
  4. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”
    I found multiple people (examples: here and here) who recommend this technique but, as previously mentioned, I don’t think it’s a good idea – you shouldn’t create an unnecessary delay when you already know the answer.
  5. Say it with humor.
    This can be tricky as humor is interpreted differently across cultures and nationalities. But if you want to try it out, this article has some unusual ideas including “sorry, I’ve got a Friends of Rutabaga meeting.”
  6. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”
    This works well when you would like to provide some support for the request but not in its original form. Rather than saying what you won’t do, you instead say what you are willing to do. As an example, if someone asks for a ride, you respond: “You are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you.”
  7. Suggest someone else instead.
    When someone asks for help, they don’t necessarily need the help from you specifically. Often there is someone else better suited to provide the help than you are.
  8. Ensure the request is the appropriate priority.
    Many employees don’t know how to say no to their boss or don’t even think they could. But saying yes to too many things could jeopardize your ability to do well on any one of them. If you are overloaded, when you are asked to do something additional, respond with something like “Yes, I would be happy to do so. With my other commitments, I’m not sure I have time to do as good a job as I would like. Can you help me decide what I might be able to deprioritize?”

In my personal life, I would respond well to either #2 or #7. And, as a senior leader, I believe #8 is an appropriate reaction to one of my requests. I don’t mind helping an employee ensure they are working on the right priorities.

How do you say no?

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Quotes on Saying No http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/09/quotes-on-saying-no/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/09/quotes-on-saying-no/#comments Sun, 09 Aug 2015 19:04:57 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5341 Over the years, I’ve compiled multiple lists of quotes about performance management, technology, and failure. Lately I’ve been thinking about prioritization and how to deal with the unending requests for my time. As I blogged about last year, I’ve had some luck using Tim Ferriss’ advice on 9 habits we all should stop — although I admit...

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Over the years, I’ve compiled multiple lists of quotes about performance management, technology, and failure. Lately I’ve been thinking about prioritization and how to deal with the unending requests for my time. As I blogged about last year, I’ve had some luck using Tim Ferriss’ advice on 9 habits we all should stop — although I admit it’s still hard to say ‘no’ to people.

For inspiration, I decided to create a list of quotes on prioritization and saying no:

“What you don’t do determines what you can do.”
Tim Ferriss, author (source)

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.”
Josh Billings, pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (unverified)

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Warren Buffet, famed investor (source)

“We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’”
Tom Friel, former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles (source)

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
Tony Blair, politician (source)

And, for even more inspiration, one from Steve Jobs:
“Focusing is about saying no.”

Anyone have any other quotes to add?

 

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Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/02/ignite-joy-at-work/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/08/02/ignite-joy-at-work/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 03:30:23 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5321 Given that multiple research studies show only a small fraction of employees are engaged at work, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time talking to people about how  leaders can empower employees and unlock their potential. For those that are interested, Gary Hamel, co-founder of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), and I discussed these issues...

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Given that multiple research studies show only a small fraction of employees are engaged at work, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time talking to people about how  leaders can empower employees and unlock their potential. For those that are interested, Gary Hamel, co-founder of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), and I discussed these issues during a Maverick Hangout last year. As such, I really enjoyed this TEDx talk from HBS Professor Teresa Amabile who explains how companies can overcome the “crisis of disengagement”:

Professor Amabile studies how everyday corporate life can influence employee performance. The TedX talk is based on a book she co-authored with Steven Kramer, entitled “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work”. The book’s Web site provides this summary:

What really sets the best managers above the rest? It’s their power to build a cadre of employees who have great inner work lives – consistently positive emotions; strong motivation; and favorable perceptions of the organization, their work, and their colleagues.

The book is based on rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by hundreds of employees in several different organizations; perhaps the most detailed field study ever done of creative work. Amabile and Kramer explain how managers can improve work satisfaction by understanding two factors:

  • catalysts: workplace events that directly facilitate project work, such as clear goals and autonomy
  • nourishers: interpersonal events that uplift workers, including encouragement and demonstrations of respect and collegiality.

The authors identify seven distinct catalysts – to long-time managers, these may seem like common sense but it’s validating to see them reinforced by research:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Support autonomy
  3. Provide sufficient resources
  4. Give enough time – but not too much
  5. Help with the work
  6. Learn from problems and successes
  7. Allow ideas to flow

Of the seven, I was particularly intrigued by their insights into time pressure. Not surprisingly, when managers regularly set impossibly short time frames or extraordinarily high workloads, employees become stressed, unhappy, and unmotivated. However, occasional periods of time pressure for short durations were viewed positively – even exhilarating. In addition, environments with very low time pressure, although rare in the research, were also perceived negatively. In the authors’ words, “people hate being bored” (my earlier take on this here).

The research reinforces the popular mantra ‘culture eats strategy’. These catalysts should not be orchestrated or controlled but rather part of the everyday behaviors of the workplace. The more leaders are engaged, the more likely employees will be too.

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Is The Glass Half Empty or Half Full? http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/26/glass-half-empty-or-half-full/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/26/glass-half-empty-or-half-full/#comments Sun, 26 Jul 2015 23:03:24 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5310 The pessimist believes the glass is half empty and the optimist sees it as half full but the insomniac stays up all night trying to decide the answer. This is an amusing twist on the classic expression normally used to show that any given situation can be looked at optimistically (half full) or pessimistically (half...

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The pessimist believes the glass is half empty and the optimist sees it as half full but the insomniac stays up all night trying to decide the answer.

This is an amusing twist on the classic expression normally used to show that any given situation can be looked at optimistically (half full) or pessimistically (half empty). The expression is so well-known that personality types are sometimes referred to as ‘glass half-full’ or ‘glass half-empty’. In other words, different people can perceive the same situation in different ways.

Before a colleague told me the insomniac version of the phrase, the most amusing variation I had ever heard went something like this:

While the optimist and pessimist are arguing, the pragmatist takes the glass and drinks it.

After doing some online searching, I discovered there are many variants of this expression. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The project manager documents that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
  • The existentialist wonders ‘what’s the point of the question?’
  • The economist lets market forces decide how full the glass is.
  • The obsessive compulsive checks the level of the water, checks it again, and again, and again…
  • The lush doesn’t worry about half empty or half full but rather who is going to pay for the next round.
  • The IT support person doesn’t answer the question but suggests you try emptying the glass and then refilling it.

Of course, you can create endless variations to fit specific professions or circumstances. Given the current fascination with unicorns – venture capital backed technology companies valued at $1B or more – I thought I would create a version for them:

The entrepreneur says: I can’t believe no one has come up with an app that solves this conundrum. This is a huge, untapped market. I’m going to raise a $50M seed round with a $200M post and create the next Big Data Internet of Things cloud security unicorn.

I’m sure you can come up with some creative examples. Post them in the comments.

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Can Meditation Make You 10% Happier? http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/12/meditation-make-you-10-happier/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/12/meditation-make-you-10-happier/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 02:45:06 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5292 If you think you’re having a bad day, you might want to consider the case of Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, anchor for Nightline, and co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Ten years ago Harris had a panic attack during a routine live TV newscast – in front of millions...

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If you think you’re having a bad day, you might want to consider the case of Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, anchor for Nightline, and co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Ten years ago Harris had a panic attack during a routine live TV newscast – in front of millions of people. Here is a video of Dan with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer talking about his public breakdown:

Dan’s anxiety was partly caused by feeling he was lost in his job and partly from self-medicating with cocaine and ecstasy. His anxiety manifested itself with an incessant voice in his head:

The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. […] If we don’t pay close attention —which very few of us are taught how to do— it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

The voice in your head is what keeps you from concentrating on what’s happening to you at that moment.

Harris writes about his journey from crisis to calm in a book titled “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story”. Amusingly, he originally wanted to call the book “The Voice in My Head Is an Asshole” but his publisher talked him out of it.

For Dan, the antidote to his anxiety – and the voices – was meditation. Harris initially had severe misgivings about meditation:

I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music.

But the more he learned about meditation, the more he understood that popular wisdom was wrong. Meditation can be used by anyone and it works. In Harris’ words:

If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.

That’s a fantastic way to describe the benefits of meditation. My employer rolled out mindfulness classes last year but many people were skeptical of taking them. Too touchy-feely. Maybe we should have just said we were giving classes on how to be 10% happier.

If we had done that, I’m sure the classes would have been standing room only.

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Fourth of July factoids, 2015 edition http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/03/fourth-of-july-factoids-2015/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/03/fourth-of-july-factoids-2015/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 16:04:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5269 On July 4 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. The declaration announced that the thirteen American colonies no longer considered themselves as part of the British Empire but rather a new nation of independent sovereign states — the United States of America. This in itself is well-known: however, here are some factoids...

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Happy 4th JulyOn July 4 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. The declaration announced that the thirteen American colonies no longer considered themselves as part of the British Empire but rather a new nation of independent sovereign states — the United States of America.

This in itself is well-known: however, here are some factoids about the event that are less well-known:

  • The term “Declaration of Independence” is not used anywhere in the document.
    It’s unclear when or how the document started to be referred to that way.
  • Congress had already voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain.
    For that reason, John Adams wanted July 2 to be considered Independence Day.
  • While 56 people signed the Declaration, John Hancock was the first and – by far – the largest signature.
    This is why the phrase “John Hancock” is sometimes used to mean signature.
  • At 70 years old, Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania was the oldest person to sign.
    At 26, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina was the youngest.
  • Not surprisingly, two of the signers were future Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
    Oddly, both died on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.

Americans celebrate our independence with fireworks, parades and – the most American of traditions – backyard barbecues. This gives rise to a few other unusual factoids:

  • The beef in our hotdogs, burgers, or steaks likely came from Texas or Nebraska.
    An estimated 1/3 of our nation’s beef supply comes from those two states.
  • Our pork sausages and ribs probably originated in Iowa.
    Iowa is home to ~30% of our nation’s pork supply; twice as much as any other state.
  • It’s a safe bet the baked beans we ate came from North Dakota.
    As I blogged about in 2008, the state produces more than 40% of U.S. beans.

Happy 4th of July.

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Word Cloud for MBWA, 2015 edition http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/28/word-cloud-for-mbwa-2015/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/28/word-cloud-for-mbwa-2015/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 19:22:45 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5257 More than six years ago, I created a wordle of my 10 most popular blog posts. Back then, word clouds were relatively new and I thought it was an interesting way to explore what I had been writing about. Some words were expected – performance, scorecard, objectives, strategy, metrics. Others were a bit more surprising –...

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More than six years ago, I created a wordle of my 10 most popular blog posts. Back then, word clouds were relatively new and I thought it was an interesting way to explore what I had been writing about. Some words were expected – performance, scorecard, objectives, strategy, metrics. Others were a bit more surprising – often, time, usually, group.

Since these days I write less about performance management and more about leadership and behavior, I decided to revisit the idea and generated the above word cloud on my last 20 blog posts using Tagxedo. Comparing the 2009 word cloud with this new one gives me a few ideas of how my writing has evolved:

  • There are fewer large words than there were 6 years ago.
    This means I’m writing about a wider variety of topics, rather than concentrating on a few ideas.
  • ‘Books’ and ‘words’ are among the largest words.
    This suggests I get most of my inspiration from books and that words do matter.
  • ‘Think’ and ‘know’ are about the same size.
    I take this to mean my posts are equal part opinion and fact.

Then there is the unexpected appearance of the word ‘don’ in the upper left hand side of the image. For a while I couldn’t explain it – after all, I haven’t written about the Mafia or the Spanish title of respect. Eventually, I discovered tagxedo was interpreting the word don’t as two words: don and t. Just like my high school grammar teacher said: avoid using apostrophes.

Anyone see any other surprising words?

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How to Make Better Decisions http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/21/how-to-make-better-decisions/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/21/how-to-make-better-decisions/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2015 23:15:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5237 I always ask aspiring business people: How do you beat Bobby Fischer, the renowned chess champion of the 1970’s? The Answer: Play him at anything but chess. This excerpt is from the second chapter of Seymour Schulich’s book, Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons. Schulich is a self-made billionaire and one of Canada’s greatest philanthropists, having...

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I always ask aspiring business people: How do you beat Bobby Fischer, the renowned chess champion of the 1970’s?
The Answer: Play him at anything but chess.

This excerpt is from the second chapter of Seymour Schulich’s book, Get Smarter: Life and Business LessonsSchulich is a self-made billionaire and one of Canada’s greatest philanthropists, having donated more than $350M to education and healthcare causes. His best-selling book was designed to give entrepreneurial advice to those earlier in their careers. While the book is 304 pages, it’s a quick read – most chapters are only a few pages long.

In the first chapter, Decision-Maker: A Tool for a Lifetime, Schulich suggests a simple, but practical, extension to the traditional two-column pro/con decision list.

On one sheet of paper, list all the positive things you can about the issue in question, then give each one a score from zero to ten — the higher the score, the more important it is to you.

On another sheet, list the negative points, and score them from zero to ten — only this time, ten means it’s a major drawback.

If the positive score is at least double the negative score, you should do it — whatever “it” is. But if the positives don’t outweigh the negatives by that two-to-one ratio, don’t do it, or at least think twice about it.

Adding the weighting to the traditional pro/con list ensures a small number of factors don’t overly influence the decision; unless those factors are very important to you. If you assign the scores in a relatively consistent way, the Decision-Maker can take the emotion out of an important decision.

Schulich is a big proponent of the Decision-Maker. He claims it can work for groups as well, describing how it helped in the decision to sell Franco-Nevada to Newmont Mining. In fact, Schulich goes on to say:

I have used it for virtually every major decision of my adult life. It has never let me down and it will serve you well, too.

With that endorsement, I think I’ll start using it. Maybe you should too.

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History might not be the greatest teacher http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/07/history-might-not-be-the-greatest-teacher/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/07/history-might-not-be-the-greatest-teacher/#comments Sun, 07 Jun 2015 18:19:04 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5220 The Lucretius problem is exacerbated by the fact data captured in the past is not necessarily as reliable or as complete as data captured today. As a result, historical data includes bias or variability.

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, Antifragile was a better book than I expected it to be. One passage that stuck in my mind long after I read it was the following:

Risk management professionals look in the past for information on the so-called worst-case scenario and use it to estimate future risks […] They take the worst historical recession, the worst war, the worst historical move in interest rates, or the worst point in unemployment as an exact estimate for the worst future outcome. But they never notice the following inconsistency: this so-called worst-case event, when it happened, exceeded the worst [known] case at the time.

I have called this mental defect the Lucretius problem, after the Latin poetic philosopher who wrote that the fool believes that the tallest mountain in the world will be equal to the tallest one he has observed.

When I first read this, I thought Taleb might be describing a valence effect; the tendency for people to overestimate the likelihood of good things happening. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized something else was going on. People expect positive outcomes to be exceeded but they don’t usually consider that negative results can also be topped.

In sports the maxim ‘records are meant to be broken’ exhorts athletes and teams to strive for even better performance. But we rarely consider that negative records can be broken as well. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers were long considered to have an untouchable losing record with a .110 winning percentage (9 wins in 82 games). But the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats proved us wrong with just 7 wins in a strike-reduced 66-game season (a .106 winning percentage). To add insult to injury, the Bobcats ended the season with 23 consecutive losses.

The Lucretius problem is exacerbated by the fact data captured in the past is not necessarily as reliable or as complete as data captured today. As a simple example, it is difficult to compare the intensity of The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 to China’s Tangshan Quake of 1976. Measurement techniques have changed fundamentally in 200 years.

This means historical data often includes bias or variability. If it isn’t accounted for in the statistical or predictive model, the results are suspect. As Taleb remarks in Antifragile:

We overestimate the validity of what has been recorded before and thus the trends we draw might tell a different story if we had the dark figure of unreported data.

So much for the oft-quoted proverb: ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ Maybe history isn’t the greatest teacher after all.

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