Friday, July 8, 2011

Paralysis by Analysis

We’re a society that likes to KNOW. If we lack knowledge, we click a few keys and find it. The unknown is treacherous. Why? Because we like to KNOW, duh! We have more data and information than any other time in human history, which leads and guides our decision making. Unfortunately this has made us more risk-averse and less willing to put it all on the line and take the big ones. We want to know how the story will end. Predicting the future has become the norm versus just going for it. A society that retreats from risk is scary. We have made it acceptable to stick to safe parameters and “predicable outcomes”, while leaving the real limits out in the cold.

It wasn’t always this way. Our forefathers were bad mamajama’s when it came to risk. They weren’t afraid to challenge norms and push boundaries. Sure, things could’ve turned out bad and the colonies could have lost thousands of lives while unintentionally fueling England’s stranglehold on the world, but the patriots were willing to risk everything for something better, something unheard of, and something impossible.

In the face of this monumental risk came history-making innovation. In order to succeed, they had to figure out how to do war American-style. Our leaders knew that if we lined up and fought the popular way of the times that we’d lose handily. They chose to use their resources to their advantage in order to improve their chances for success, and it worked.

Many times I look into the face of risk and begin calculating the odds of success in order to talk myself out of major life-changing moves. Why? My culture tells me that I have the information to predict what will happen. Guess what? That’s complete and utter hogwash. Data is available and it always will be, but an endless amount will never be able to accurately predict the future. We are humans and when our spirit is combined with the factors of life something happens that is so unpredictable that not even the best batch of information can do its results justice. Life happens.

Go read about Ernest Shackleton and his crew. They survived impossible odds in Antarctica almost 100 years ago. Their feat was so impossible that when the leader of the whaling station saw Shackleton walk to his door almost 2 years after leaving to be the first expedition to cross Antarctica all he could do was turn away and cry. Think about it – a grown man tough as nails turning and crying like a baby. That is powerful stuff, but it is what happens when we refuse to listen to all the data and go for it. We love stories where people overcome impossible odds, but when it comes to our own story we tend to follow the odds and trust the data. Something beautiful comes of real risk.