Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Yesterday I overheard some colleagues talking about the programme on Channel 4 on Sunday night “Britain's Got The Pop Factor And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice” and were saying how TV had reached a new low that people had to have such issue sin their life to be on these programmes and how they exploited people etc. They then brought me into the conversation and asked if I had seen it and I somewhat sheepishly said “you know that was a spoof don’t you?”. They both looked utterly shocked by this and took some convincing that it wasn’t a real programme. I would have thought Peter Kay dressed as a woman was a bit of a give away but clearly not. Or even the title of the programme for that matter. Or… well pretty much the entire content of it. Sometimes my colleagues scare me.

I went to a talk at LSE last night which was on probability. I have to see that it was not a particularly accessible talk. They lecturer was a philosopher who had quite some disdain for economists, econometrics and pretty much anyone who tried to predict any sort of trend. But he did make some interesting and challenging points, three of which I give you here:

- Probability is not in itself important, impact is.

- Past performance does not necessarily predict the future, particularly if this is based on creating predictions based on rare events. This is primarily due to lack of data and that when we do have data we often impose our theories on it rather than allowing the data to speak for itself. Therefore we create trends based on flawed theories and that is partly how things like the current economic crash. People looked at past performance and predicted that it would continue based on drawing incorrect assumptions.

- It is important to be able to say “I don’t know”, especially if pretending you do know something could have a high impact. On a more basic level, which was evident from the attitude of the lecturer though, it is also quite freeing to feel able to say you don’t know something. You state what you do know and you admit what you don’t. By doing this you are acknowledging that the world can be unpredictable and that we don’t know everything and probably never will. Accepting that we live in a world of uncertainty is part of coming to terms with understanding that economies crash, floods happen, society changes and so on – and can also mean that you can stand up in front of a lecture theatre and be asked lots of intellectual questions and be willing to say “I don’t know”. Somehow I think it would take a huge shift in people’s thinking for this approach to become generally acceptable but there is something quite refreshing about it. We live in a culture where we have to be experts and always want to win the argument, but what if we could just admit we don’t know everything and we don’t need to? Interesting.


Spudgy said...

The mrs wouldnt let me watch the Peter Kay thing but I caught the 'winners' video on the chart show yesterday......fabulous send up!!


I just love his theory on probabity, it appears to my quirky way of looking at life. I'm going to adopt this as my new catch phase "I don't know" Love it. Thanks TFx

(BTW your word verfication come up with the word WHYyyy) :)

Random Reflections said...

spudgy - it was very amusing and I still can't get my head round how two of my colleagues didn't work out it was a spoof.

TF - I think it is remarkably freeing - but others might not be quite to happy about you constantly saying "I don't know" so use it with care!

I wasn't even aware I had the word verification thing switched on - that shows how much I pay attention!

Kahless said...

I watched the Peter Kay programme; did go on a bit but at least I realised it was a spoof... your colleagues worry me too!!!

Have you read the small book "who moved my cheese?"

You sound very adaptable to change; that is good as we do have to have that skill these days.

Random Reflections said...

kahless - I watched parts of it and kept wandering out the room. My colleagues often scare me...

I haven't read that book, but I might track down a copy.

I am not sure if I am adapatable to change. I've never really thought about it. I suppose I quite like challenging things and my way of thinking and that is all a prt of being willing to change, whether I am actually any good at following through on the change is another thing though.