My Pi-spective on Probability

My Pi-spective on Probability

(A pi-spective is when you write about something using only 314 words. Which doesn't include these words or the credits at the bottom)

We talk about probability all the time. Any time we say 'probably'. Or 'likely'. Or making statements about the future like 'this will...' Or 'this should...'

We make assumptions about the past or present and project them into the future. Or we say things like 'ceteris paribus'. And we do this enough to make us a little more comfortable about making stuff up.

There are no facts about the future. All we have is conjecture. Conjecture means “an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information.”

The Latin root of conjecture meant to “throw facts together.” When the word entered English it meant “interpret signs and omens.”

Few business leaders will think that throwing facts together and interpreting omens is a good strategy. Yet it (probably) is how many of us work.

We talk about putting 'rigor' around what we do. But many of our techniques make claims that don't hold up to close scrutiny. Applying rigor to a flawed technique doesn't improve the technique. We move from reading our daily stars to calculating a natal birth chart.

Many of our future focused techniques contribute to the illusion of control. This is the belief that events are causally related when they are not. Another word for the illusion of control is superstition.

People turn to superstition to deal with uncertainty. As we write strategies to get to our ideal future (whatever that is), we indulge in wishful thinking. Howard Wainer called this "the triumph of hope over evidence."

We snap up technology like predictive analytics because it helps us feel certain. But if we haven't learned to think probabilistically then it's (likely) that our predictions are flawed.

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