23 July 2020

What is the importance of history ?


A brand new school opens is freshly painted doors to welcome its first students to their first classes.

An enthusiastic history teacher, Anne Akronism, arrives to face her first students in her first class ever. 

In her defence, she considers that she is not simply teaching history, but helping to make history.

She arrives to find three adolescent boys sitting in a row, all have their heads bowed down, each is reading a book. 

She is a bit surprised to observe that the covers of the three books are exactly the same.

"Morning boys," says the teacher. "Enjoying your book?"

"Yes Ma'am" the three say in unison as they look up.

She gasps. The three boys are dressed quite differently - one has tattoos on his arm, the one next to him has a prominent crucifix around his neck, and the third is dressed in a neat-preppy way - but the three appear to be physically identical: same eyes, same nose, same hair, same height, same build.

29 June 2020

Practical uncertainty - believe less, be less certain

Entrance to Centre Court, Wimbledon
Believe less.
Be less certain.

Or rather, 
believe this one certainty:
there is always more to learn.

Learn well from your mistakes.

Your wins are nothing.
Self-aggrandizement from wins,
is a card-house
founded on luck.

Your losses are learning opportunities,
personal pain is the powerful teacher.
Lose that opportunity,
you lose everything!

Ask questions,
and pay attention.

Nurture conversations, dialogues, discussions, and even debates,
but aim for discovery rather than destination,
pursue exploration rather than exposition.

Better to question
than to answer.


18 June 2020

No news is good

The Caribbean Sea is justifiably famous for its well over 7000 idyllic islands

They are the very definition of paradise: you are free to lie in a hammock under a coconut tree or swim in the aquamarine sea.

However, the picture of paradise hides a dirty, little secret - life here ain't perfect.

The Brothers Cay, in the southern part of the Caribbean off the coast of Colombia, is named for two brothers who died in unfortunate circumstances many years apart over a century ago.

The first to die was a young boy, a toddler, killed by a falling coconut. This threw the island into mourning for some weeks. And for months afterwards, mothers and others would encourage everyone to not linger under dangerous coconut trees. 

02 June 2020

Philosophy is a sandbox: get in & play !

Virtually everyone is aware of the trolley problem in philosophy: a run-away trolley/streetcar/tram is going to kill four people, but you're standing by a switch and you have the capacity to redirect the tram to another track where it will kill one person - do you pull the switch? 

The 'trolley problem' is a staple of philosophy - and it is an example of staple method used in philosophy - the thought experiment.

Or put another way, 'what if' questioning. Or to put a fancy term on it: hypotheticals.

Philosophy then, is a sandbox. It is a place for grownups to play with ideas, concepts, hypotheticals, thought-experiments (e.g., in software development). 

18 May 2020

A psychokinetic paradox?


Cecily is a professor who is confident that people can know the outcomes of future random events (a so-called 'psi' effect*).

She is keen to run an experiment to show that people can predict outcomes of coin tosses at a rate better than chance.

She sets up a graduate student to do a study for her. The graduate student, Laz E Bum, is a slack research assistant uninterested in doing the work. So, he simply makes up the data.

He generates random data for 100 people guessing a thousand coin tosses each. The results from the random-number generator "show" that 50% of the guesses (of the fake respondents) are right, and 50% are wrong+.

The graduate student then tweaks a few of the results so that overall, on average, people correctly guess 501 out of 1000.

Do the final results of this study provide evidence of a psychokinetic effect? 

It seems that there are two possible answers.

#1: No, because the data were fabricated (by Laz E Bum, the research assistant).

#2: Yes, because Cecily's (the professor and lead researcher) expectations led to the research outcomes supporting her hypothesis (anticipation?) that people could anticipate the outcomes of future events!

FOOTNOTES

* The study of 'psi' or the power of mind over matter, of consciousness over the physical world, has been explored at length in psychology (often within a sub-field known as para-psychology). One of most famous labs studying psi is PEAR: Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research.

+ This result is in line with reported size of the psi effect: "'The effects that the volunteers accomplish are very small, but amazing. The operators are roughly altering one bit in 1,000,' explains Michael Ibison, a British mathematical physicist who has come to work for a year at PEAR after stints at Siemens, IBM, and Agfa. 'That means if you had a coin toss, psychokinesis could affect one of those coin tosses if you tossed a thousand times.'"  (Van Bakel 1994, Wired)

13 December 2019

What is truth?


1. The Truth is... a riddle

What is something that humans seek, and don't know it when they see it?

The answer is the truth!


2. The Truth is... not known

Humans want to know the truth, 
but they don't know it when they see it.

(C.f. Jacobellis v Ohio 1964 in which the judge declined to define hard-core pornography, but famously said "I know it when I see it".)

The conundrum about knowing truth is captured in the idea of knowledge as justified true belief

It is said that we know something to be true if 
(a) we believe it to be true, 
(b) we have justification for our belief, and 
(c) it is true.

We can build towards knowledge 
with beliefs and justifications, 
but we fail unless it's true.

And how do we "know" if it's true? Whether something is true, is unknown. 

Frustrating! 

22 October 2019

Do you believe in God(s): Yes, No, or Other?


"Do you believe in God (however you choose to define that entity or those entities)?" 

A dichotomous version of this question would allow only "Yes" or "No" as responses. But doesn't this create a false dichotomy?

In particular, if I respond "No", someone might respond, "Ah, so you believe there is no god".  

But that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm merely saying that I do not hold a belief in God. That is not the same as saying I hold a belief that there is no God(s).

There is some ambiguity in the original version of the question "Do you believe in a god?"

One version is "Do you hold (or have) a belief in God?" To which I can legitimately respond, "Yes" or "No".
The other version is: "Does God exist?" To which a more nuanced response may be justified.

16 October 2019

Democracy: a declining faith ?

Democracy - a declining faith

While we deify the concept of democracy, it appears to have lost much of its shine. The magic of democracy has diminished as a number of numbers show.

The declining faith in democracy is illustrated in the marked reductions in voter turnout observed over the last 50 years in Australia and elsewhere in the world. Political scientist Simon Tormey in a 2016 lecture at Parliament House reports that while voter turnout varies from vote to vote, the general tendency is that we are becoming "reluctant voters".

21 September 2019

Degrees of desire


The three degrees of desire:
  • I'd like to be rich
  • I want love
  • I need air
The three degrees for dealing with desire:
  • gratitude: I am grateful for the riches I have received
  • detachment: I accept the love that is offered
  • nirvana (not needing): one day, I will stop grasping for air

07 September 2019

Puzzling views on life

Two inconsistent views about life

1. My life is nothing and supremely unimportant

2. My life is a great and glorious event

In short, life is nothing and nothing is great!

-------------------------------------------


So, paradox, doublethink, conundrum, or something else?


Paradox: a logical contradictory statement: 'this statement is false'

Doublethink: "Holding contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them": "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength" 1984, George Orwell

Conundrum: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun or unexpected twist: "People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day." Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

27 April 2019

My mistake



Life is long
... if you are lucky.


Making mistakes is inevitable,
learning is not!


Mistakes are made for lack of reflection*, but
learning is achieved only on reflection.

A daily practice:

Today, I made a mistake. I was wrong. I erred. 

What were the mistakes I made today?

What - if anything - could I do to avoid making such mistakes again?

---------
* My mistake... only some mistakes result from lack of reflection! To repeat, 'making mistakes is inevitable'

10 January 2019

Getting it right by being uncertain

Certainty for humans is like a flame is to a moth.

Blind instinct takes us there, but we may well get burnt.

We might get more things right in this world if we were a little less certain about everything.

How can we avoid the trap of certainty?

The wrongs of the righteous

There's no lack of certainty in the world, and lots of evidence that despite that certainty, we're wrong!

13 October 2018

Marketing is plain sailing


Marketing is easy, but only if you really understand it.

And most people do not.

Most people think that marketing is powerful, that it can make people do things that they would not otherwise do.

We have a long history of being scared of such things - like hypnosis, subliminal messaging, hard sell salespeople, etc.

But just because we're scared of the bogeyman doesn't mean that he exists! Subliminal advertising was debunked decades ago - but many still believe it.


08 October 2018

Science corrections - replication is much more important than retraction

(The original article appears at The Conversation under the title "Retraction of a journal article doesn't make its findings false.").
The American Medical Association recently retracted six papers co-authored by food consumption and psychology researcher, Brian Wansink, in three of its journals. These studies include two showing that large bowl sizes encourage us to eat more, and that shopping when hungry leads us to buy more calorie-dense foods.
A prolific academic researcher, Wansink has provided many thought-provoking ideas about the psychology of food consumption through more than 500 publications which have been collectively cited more than 25,000 times.
His research has shown that people will eat a lot more from a bottomless soup bowl; they will eat more from larger portions, even if it is stale popcorn or food served in a dark restaurant; and they will eat less if a portion is made to appear larger using visual illusions.
Retractions are a permanent means by which journals endeavour to preserve the integrity of scientific literature. They are typically issued for some form of misconduct, but it does not necessarily mean the results are false.

20 August 2018

The blame game: sports, alcohol, violence, and research


A raft of headlines reported on a fascinating finding that linked State of Origin matches to a spike in domestic violence.

For instance, the SBS report ran the headline "Study exposes 'clear' Origin link to DV" (where DV is domestic violence).

Big story because basically, the data showed that between 6pm on State of Origin night to 6am the following morning, domestic violence increased by 40%. Incidentally, non-domestic violence (blokes beating up other blokes) went up by 70% as well.

Despite this sobering result, the media have leapt on this story, and spun a long drinking yarn. Specifically, they have drawn conclusions about the involvement of alcohol in all of this - even though alcohol consumption is not directly observed in the original study in any way.
 

29 July 2018

To do: nothing

"Just don't do it."

Just do nothing.

Ethics is the philosophy of action. So part of its domain surely therefore includes, the philosophy of inaction.

And this is a defence of doing nothing.

But there's so much to be done!

How can I defend inaction in a world with so many inequalities and injustices that plague our lives?

My answer? For precisely that reason! Precisely because so many are raging at inevitable inequalities and injustices which will forever plague our lives.

18 May 2018

Glorious food, inglorious super-marketing bastards & the obesity crisis

Blaming supermarkets for obesity is a little like chopping down a tree we are standing on. Or like tying our bootlaces together so we don't trip up on them.

"No wonder we have an obesity epidemic" the article announces as an introduction to "the nutritionist's eye-opening video post to Faceback".

Sure is eye-opening - if you have never been to a supermarket before.

Or eye-opening if you have been, but didn't notice the end-aisle displays because you were headed into the aisles which are filled to the brim with stuff that most nutritionist's would find to be equally awful.

No wonder we don't make any progress on obesity when we continue to run stories like this.

This kind of story about the evil of supermarkets is popular because it is an awesome cover story. It allows us to completely shift the responsibility to someone else.

Every parent has heard it: "He made me hit him."

Supermarkets, like siblings, are easy targets.

But supermarkets don't even make the products that people are so angry about. And if people are so damn angry, why are they still buying the stuff?

We're listening to the righteous leaders, while the masses (excuse the pun) are right behind waving their packet of chips and saying how they are right behind their nutritionist friends.

What about the good that supermarkets do?

Supermarkets have replaced the old family-run corner store groceries.

We've lost a way of life, rather like horses, carts and buggy whips. The wheel turns, and it does so because it generates something good.

Modern supermarkets give us access to an enormous range of food stuffs of excellent quality at a good price. Oh, and lots of choice!

And so many good things that supermarkets have done to support healhier life-styles. Supporting activities for local schools, introducing and supporting organic and other specialised food ranges, giving fruit away to the kids as they walk around the supermarket.

The reason why we don't talk about the good is simple. It ain't a story.

Are we serious about tackling obesity? If so, there is no "us" and "them." Sure supermarkets want to make a profit, and we want good food - meaning both good for you and just plain yummy even if not good for you - and we want it cheap.

We both individually and jointly contribute to the problem of obesity.

Time for us to make up our minds. Do we want to solve obesity?

Yes? Well then we need to make changes. And it's not about just one side or the other, but both sides together. Obesity is a community problem, one that consumers and marketers need to work on together.

Pointing fingers at the other side is like junk-food -- it has a really satisfying mouth-feel in the moment, but isn't doing us any good.

30 March 2018

Don't lie if you want the Easter bunny to visit

The Easter bunny is apparently a German innovation and brings painted eggs, candy and even presents to children who have been good.

What a delicious irony! A fiction to encourage honesty along with other good behaviour.

Meanwhile, neither parents nor clerics tell their respective flocks that there is no "bunny" in any of the stories about Jesus' death and resurrection.

We are not told that the word Easter commemorates a pagan goddess, Eostre. Or at least, might do if St Bede's account of Eostre is not a lie as at least some scholars contend!

What a web we weave,  when we practice to deceive.

Does it matter if we lie? Well, how do I know when to believe?

The Bible (to stay with the Easter theme) would have us believe that Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday.

Is it true or is it a lie? That's an awful lot of consequences if that is a lie!

But let's back up a little. Let's start by being a little clearer about what we mean by lying.

04 February 2018

The truth about eternal life is... we don't know!

We like to believe that our beliefs come from good solid reasons. 

But given that we selectively choose evidence to reinforce what we already believe suggests otherwise (i.e., the confirmation bias).

We only question our beliefs when evidence comes up to suggest it just ain't so. 

Or so I like to believe... but maybe that simply ain't so!

Even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, the human mind remains remarkably resistant to doubt.

Consider Leon Festinger's fascinating work on a group who believed that the world would end on December 21, 1954. How would they deal with the evidence that their predictions of the date were wrong - assuming they were wrong?

28 January 2018

What is truth?

La Vérité sortant du puits armée de son martinet pour châtier l'humanité
   
  • The truth is very often not knowable
        
  • The truth is that many beliefs are formed without knowledge
       
  • The truth is that people claiming to know the truth are generally deluded
       
  • The truth is that a fiction can be powerful (think placebo, nocebo, etc.)
       
  • The truth is that truth may not be a supreme virtue
       
  • The truth is that what works, practical wisdom, may be all that matters

14 September 2017

Facebook & fast-food - superficially satisfying, but bad for you

Social media is to human connection what junk-food is to human nutrition.
Facebook like fast-food is convenient, it meets a desire, is superficially satisfying, it even offers some of what we need (connection or calories respectively), but by and large and in the long run, it is not all that good for us.
Look at the change in the fundamental unit of community — the family. Today, one in five children are raised in a home where the other biological parent is absent.
Some still see the nuclear family, mum dad and 2.5 kids, as the ideal. But the ideal community unit had already gone the way of REAL hamburgers and real food.
Prior to the nuclear ideal, the extended family lived together, providing a community that supported and sustained them all.
Even now, grandparents have time for kids that parents do not. But now the grandparents have their place and we have ours. We live our lives apart: each child in their own room, each parent may even have their own house. And the grandparents? Live elsewhere.
even though it's not good for me!
Mmm? I may be lovin’ it, but I am pretty sure it’s not good for me.
What is good for me? I’m not sure, but it seems more like when I live in a community, a village, surrounded by say 10–20 people whom I know and trust.
Facebook with 500 or more so-called “friends” cannot replace my village, the people I know and trust.
And trust should not be confused with like. All humans are flawed, and there may be things that I might not like about someone, but that does not mean I am not able to trust them. Trust means I know the person, I know her or his limitations, I know of the contexts in which I might trust them to do the right thing and which ones where they might not.
They are not even necessarily dear friends, I don’t even necessarily like them so much of the time. Rather, I know them, and can trust — as in rely — on them to behave in certain ways.
Uncle Frederic might be an odd-bird, a bit of a bore at social gatherings, still a bachelor and frankly, we can understand why. Nonetheless, he is good with the kids, and they love him, and at a pinch, he could be called in to take Cathy out for a talk and a soda as she wrestles with life as an adolescent.
Just as fast food has supplanted simple, real food cooked at home from scratch, so Facebook and the other online copy-cats have supplanted community created at heart in the home.
A “like” from some 500 or more of my Facebook “friends” may give me a little frisson of pleasure, but a more limited gesture of friendship is difficult to imagine. Pressing a thumbs-up symbol, and then moving on to the next image in a continuously changing stream of images and words is hardly much display of friendship let alone commitment.
The problem is that convenience is king in so many things. We love quick-fixes. And fast food and Facebook offer just that.
Unfortunately, what we want is not necessarily what we need. And what we need — healthy food, exercise, and making time and space for our village, some of whom are frankly a pain in the butt — is bloody hard work.
So we don’t bother. We choose the junk option, the quick-fix, the one that sets off the pleasure centre in our brain. We hear a ping on our phone and leap to look: someone likes me!
That’s not good, that is sad.
To feed your body, you need to eat well. To feed your soul, you need to connect well.

09 August 2017

Data bites: confusing cross-tabulations


Some recent research from a sample of 957 members of PureProfile's Australian panel showed that people who classified themselves as "Early Birds" were two times more likely than "Night Owls" to earn over $70k per annum.

Specifically, 23% of Early Birds earned over $70k p.a. vs just 11% of Night Owls.

Does that mean that 23% of those who earn $70k+ are Early Birds and 11% are Night Owls?

Nope. If that were true, that leaves two-thirds (66%) of $70+k earners who are neither Early Birds nor Night Owls.

Does the result mean that there are more Early Birds than Night Owls earning above $70k per annum.

Not necessarily.

If the Night Owls are far more numerous than Early Birds in the total sample, then it is quite feasible for there to be more Night Owls who earn $70k+ even while Early Birds are two times more likely to earn $70k+ than Night Owls.

Making this error is very easy - unfortunately - and even downright confusing in some situations. Here's an example that can seem particularly confounding.

PureProfile's research showed that in the Australian population, men are more likely to be Early Birds than women. About 56% of men are Early Birds compared with just 45% of women (see yellow shading in table below).


However, when we turn the result around so it expresses the proportion of Early Birds (and Night Owls) who are male vs female, we may be surprised to see that 50% of Early Birds are women and 50% are men. (In actual fact, there are slightly more women who are Early Birds than men as we will see in a moment).


Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? How can that be?

The problem is one that often confronts us when we do crosstabulations. A crosstabulation (often shortened to crosstab) is simply breaking down the frequency of responses on one variable by groups (in this instance, the groups are male and female).

People tend to get confused because they see the first result (56% of males are Early Birds), and think that this is equivalent to saying that 56% of Early Birds are males.

But this simply ain't so.

Let's break this example out. First, here's the raw counts in each cell. In this sample, there are 945 males who are Early Birds - or 945 Early Birds who are male if you prefer. It is the same thing!

And note that there are slightly more women who are Early Birds than men: 951 women vs 945 men.


The proportion (or per cent) of males who are Early Birds depends on the total number of males there are in the column.



The proportion of Early Birds who are male depends on the total number of Early Birds there are in the row.


So, in a nutshell, there are 945 males who are Early Birds. This represents 56% of the total number of males (column %), but just a fraction under 50% of the total number of Early Birds (row %).

The key takeout is this. Whenever a percentage is being reported, take note of the base. Are you looking at the % of the column (in which case the sum of the column is 100%) or the % of the row (in which case the sum of the row is 100%).

Understanding this distinction is important - and surprisingly often misunderstood. Here's one extreme example to highlight the problem.

Nearly 100% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by males but that does not mean that all males (or even a high percentage of males) are molesters/rapists - thankfully.

However, that doesn't stop many parents, airline policies and even national news anchors from treating all men as potential molesters. Most molesters are male, but most men are not molesters. Again, thankfully.

Drawing this conclusion, and worse, enacting policy based on this result reflects a gross misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the statistics. And it happens to lead to inappropriate stereotyping of a lot of good men. If interested, you can read more about this case here.

How to minimise the danger of this error?

Whenever reporting a percentage, be very clear about what is the base, ie x% of what? Quite simply, % of men is not the same as % of Early Birds.

Meghan Trainor - it's all about the base!

If you're preparing crosstabulations (crosstabs), I generally recommend (and myself, generally present) column percentages only. That way, you know you're always comparing the % of column 1 to the % of column 2.

But what goes into the column and what goes into the row? Generally, we try and put the Causal factor into the Column, and the Result into the Row. As sex is generally decided many years before we begin to decide whether we like to get up early or stay up late, sex is the cause (put it into the column) which is thought to determine the result, namely, whether or not you are an Early Bird.

If you do want to swap it around (and see what proportion of Early Birds are female vs what proportion of Night Owls), swap the row and column variables and rerun your crosstabulation. That way, you are still reading column percentages. (It can still be confusing, but hopefully less so).

And practice. Swap the rows and columns, see if which makes most sense.

Above all, do not mistake the per cent of the column to be the same as the per cent of the row.

01 June 2017

Sharing wisdom: reflections on the road to the country for old men

M.C. Escher
Not everyone is lucky enough to journey into the "country for old men" (and women). And even among those who are lucky enough to reach old-age, not all learn as much from the journey as they might. Some arrive at the destination having missed the journey.
Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.

Is practical wisdom valuable?

Even in a society which is increasingly technical and technological, there is some sense that wisdom is a worthy goal, a knowledge worth attaining. Adapting the words of Aristotle in Nichomacean Ethics only a little, we can see that his observation applies still today:
"Although the young may be experts in geometry and mathematics [and technology and computers] and similar sorts of knowledge, they nonetheless lack practical wisdom. Such wisdom is gained from experience which the young do not possess, for experience is the fruit of years." (adapted from Nichomachean Ethics 1142a).
So even while we may rely on our children, our grand-children or both to help us download apps to our mobile phone, to show us how to connect our "smart" television to Netflix and how to stream music through Spotify to our tablet and other devices, there is still a place for wisdom.


25 May 2017

Skepticism: are you willing to change your mind?

Joel Pett (2009) USA Today
"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." 
-- Bertrand Russell

Skepticism has received an increasingly bad name - but most of that is from mis-attribution. 

Skepticism can be usefully distinguished from denialism - even though the word skepticism is used to describe anti-vaxxers to climate-change deniers, 

In some instances, skepticism is used as a synonym of denial as in "I am skeptical about your claims", or "I doubt that what you say is true".

However, skepticism is more uniquely used to describe the notion of uncertainty - as in "I'm uncertain about the truth of what you say", or more simply, "I am uncertain about what is true".

10 November 2016

We need to talk about bias: The census

Reliably biased
One thing that virtually everyone seems to believe about survey research is that a bigger sample is better: a sample of 500 respondents is better than 100, and 1000 is better still. And best of all is a census where, technically, the margin of error is reduced to zero.

However, the truth of the research adage about bigger sample sizes holds if, and only if, there is no bias. And the probability of zero bias is rare.

Researchers know this – but the media and the general public do not. The press and their audiences fixate on the number of respondents in research. To overcome this problem, we need to talk about bias.

When the Census 2016 online form was inaccessible for more than 48 hours from 7.30pm on census night (August 9), it created a media flurry. However, when the ABS reported that more than 96 per cent of households had completed the census by the closing date (September 23), many concluded that the problem was resolved.

However, the problem of bias remains, and this is not necessarily resolved with a high response rate. The real #censusfail is less a data collection glitch and more the threat it has posed to data quality.

20 September 2016

Research lessons from Census 2016 - making sense of a senseless fail

Let's admit - it's a trainwreck 
The ABS is threatening two million households with fines if they do not complete their census at the same time as being "adamant the quality of data has not been compromised."

It's not so long ago that they reassured the public they would be able to cope with the demand on census night. They were wrong then - and they are wrong now.

The data quality has been hopelessly compromised. For one thing, at this point in time, there are two million out of "close to 10 million dwellings"  that are yet to complete. That is, 20% who have not completed yet.

In the short run, #censusfail was about a data collection problem. The website for collecting the census data was inaccessible on the night of the census at the time that most people would have completed the census form. It remained inaccessible for a further 48 hours. Even longer for some.

The initial response to this colossal data collection glitch was a flurry of fingerpointing and promises that "heads will roll."

However, the bigger problem appears to have been totally overlooked. The real crux of #censusfail is less a data collection fail and more a data quality fail.   

30 April 2016

Metric madness: "how likely are you to recommend me?"

Marketers love a good metric system, but the numbers we’re so keen on crunching aren’t always the main objective, says Honorary Adjunct Professor, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Stephen Holden.
B&T Magazine
Posted byB&T MAGAZINE
Marketers are mad about metrics! By that, I mean both manic-mad and misguided-mad.
The manic side is clear in the availability of marketing metrics beyond measure: Net Promoter Score, brand valuation, brand equity, purchase intention, ServQual, social media “likes”, CTRs (click-through rate), etc.
The misguided side is that we have become like a child fascinated by a tape measure or a digital scale. A little girl pulls out the tape measure and delights as the tape automatically retracts. A little boy puts his hand on the kitchen scales, the digital display lights up, a number appears.
We get a number, but what does it mean? Who knows! But everyone is measuring it, so we do it too.
As a consumer, I’m baraged by requests to complete little surveys for my bank, my mobile provider, my internet-provider, the airlines I fly, etc. And so many of them end with what we all know is the Net Promoter Score:
“How likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague?: 0=not at all likely, 10=extremely likely.”
But what does this mean? I suspect that many think that a high recommender score means high satisfaction and/or high future purchase intention – and a low recommender score the converse. But even just a little thought highlights that ain’t so.
What mobile network would I recommend? In accord with MBA-speak, the answer is “it depends!” If you want coverage in rural areas, go with Telstra – and no, that is not my network provider!
What internet provider would I recommend? Not mine because they suck. However, they have rather neatly promised me the world wide web, tied me into a 24-month contract and then delivered crap service. But how good are the alternatives? Not much better – as reflected perhaps in the low NPS norm for internet service which is three!
Purchase intention, satisfaction, and recommendation measure three different things. I might recommend a wedding dress designer, but I have no intention of using them again!  I loved going to Tahiti, I might even recommend it if I thought it suited the person I am talking to, but I’m never going back: “been there, done that.”
I am dissatisfied with my bank, but I have no intention of changing: it’s just too hard. I might even recommend them as being the best of a bunch of bastard bankers.
And I have no intention of talking about, let alone recommending, my favourite guilty pleasures (my favourite treat at the local bakery which is in limited supply), my dirty little secrets (the toilet paper I use), things so trivial or personal, I simply don’t know the brand and/or would never would discuss with others (butter, toothpaste).
Another meaningless measure is the widely touted brand value. What can this measure mean when multiple agencies come up with different scores?
Marketing Week columnist and academic, Mark Ritson has eloquently railed on this nonsense in print and in a public debate with the companies which hawk this BS.
Just because I can measure something does not mean it is useful. I could measure the average height and weight, of the marketing department, but what does it mean? If you’re measuring marketing muscle, you need measures to match.
Make the measure to fit the effect, not the other way round.
Originally posted at B&T Magazine

11 April 2016

Gender equality as a fantastical fairy tale

According to the magic mirror, Snow White was the fairest by far. 

But that's not fair! And so the beautiful but vain stepmother set about fixing the problem.

We detest inequality in general, but we can easily confuse this with detest of those specifically, who have more than me.  We battle inequality, but we overlook what we have, and also what others have not.

That "Harry Potter girl" Emma Watson, charmed us with her reminder of the dimensions of inequality that we fail to consider. And the appearance afterward of trolls and witch-hunts simply underlined her point.

In missing the inequalities, we miss the solutions too. Annabel Crabb observes that career women are frequently asked about how they manage their family lives while men never are. Her solution is simple: "I don't think the answer is to stop asking women. The answer is to start asking men."

Asking both working women and men about how they manage their home life highlights that someone must manage it, hence the title of Crabb's new book: The Wife Drought.

Unpaid domestic labour is not generally counted in measures of economic activity but is estimated to be equivalent to up to half of Gross Domestic Product.

Who does the work at home? Women do. At a rate almost two times that of men and even greater if they have children. This is true even in fairytales. The seven dwarfs agreed to protect Snow White in return for unpaid household labour.

Both types of work have to be done. Men do about two-thirds of the paid work, women about two-thirds of the unpaid household work.

Men are generally expected to provide and do so, even at a personal cost which often becomes apparent only at their deathbed. Working too hard is one of the top regrets of the dying says Bronnie Ware, and particularly among men.

Statistics show that men have higher rates of pay than women with one notable exception. The fairer sex makes a good deal more than men in fashion modelling.

Statistics also show that men have higher rates of being victims of violence, assault, work-related injuries, suicide and earlier death.

As Sam de Brito quips, "I'm surely not the only man who'd be happy to swap my 8 per cent for an extra five years of life, more time with my kid and the guarantee I'll not be found swinging from a beam when I turn 55."


Just as a corporate women must explain how she manages her home, stay-at-home fathers must explain why he is neglecting his career. Fathers stepping up to help in the family are questioned, literally and figuratively. We do not seem to like men being around children as reflected in the following:
  • Male child carers are bound by special rules
  • Tracey Spicer provides public support to airline policy ensuring men are not seated next to unaccompanied minors
  • Lenore Skenazy documents multiple other examples in an article entitled “Eek, a male!

Charles Areni and I in our book The Other Glass Ceiling provide other instances of man-fear: a dad shopping for his daughter's undies is deemed a security risk; a single father searching for an au pair is suspicious.

We don't even realise we're treating others unequally. Consider the following scenario:

"Chris is a single parent of two and the director of marketing for an electronics firm. Scheduled to present the key quarterly sales report to the Board, Chris arrives 15 minutes late after dropping the children at school and day care. In addition to dishevelled hair, there is a noticeable stain on Chris’ suit, the result of the young girl vomiting at the end of her car trip after a hurried breakfast."

Our research shows that 95% of people think that Chris is a woman. But Chris' gender was not stated. We often fail to see our own unequal treatment of others.

Striving to reduce inequality is important, but equality is a myth. Men and women are not born equal and even the most earnest efforts cannot rectify all the inequalities as the Monty Python team explain to Loretta.

And some efforts to reduce inequality create more damage than good. According to relationship expert John Gottman, when communication is reduced to criticisms and contempt, the relationship is in trouble.

The gender-war is not helpful. In tackling one inequality, we may create another. In the original Snow White, the evil stepmother is forced to put on burning hot boots at Snow White's wedding and dance until she dies.

The moral of this tale is that equality is not even true in fairy tales. Our goal is to reduce inequality, to exchange inequalities.

Ask both women and men, "How are you managing your home life?" Encourage fathers to step up and mothers to let go.

Now just share your toys nicely, and we'll all live happily ever after.