Monday, September 29, 2014

Throw Away the Ledger

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” 
― Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps in a move that makes little sense, I'm going to open with a counter-point to the point I actually want to make. I'm running a profitable business, and one day Penfold from accounts rushes up to me with a ledger and says 'sir! I've discovered that a fault in sector 7G is costing us $5 a day.' being a manly man of decisive action I say 'what will it cost to fix it Penfold?' because I solve problems it's what I do, and Penfold says 'We can fix it for $10 a day.' and I say - 'don't fix it.'

Terrorism too, in terms of money certainly, and as the record is showing, human lives - is a more costly problem to solve than to by and large ignore. Terrorism over the long term, is less clear cut.

But in the above examples, the obvious real lesson is that you don't fix a problem with a larger problem. You need a 50c solution to a $5 problem, not a $10 one. Terrorism needs a response that doesn't result in escalating conflict.

But what Benji Frankleberry is saying is that there are situations where one incident negates all previous knowledge.

A conviction of a sexual offence against a child, tends to completely undo all one's other accomplishments in life. Similarly one positive drug test can strip you of a whole bunch of Tour De France titles. One bad day on the markets can undo 60 years of wealth accumulation.

So there's nothing new there, except that these kind of things keep happening to people, people keep perpetrating them and people keep falling victim to them.

So in some ways when I say 'throw away the ledger' it's a misnomer. The issue is in the weighting, which proper ledgers actually do. You can have a thousand items valued at 1c in the Assets column and one item worth $10,000 in the liability column and the ledger will make it clear that you are in trouble.

The ledgers people keep in their head though, go like dessert was delicious, main was delicious, soup was delicious, entre made me violently ill. That's 3 courses to 1 which means on balance the meal was delicious and I'll go back to the restaurant. Okay so we don't do that. We know that the presence of salmonella in just one dish ruins a whole dining experience.

We restrict this kind of clear thinking, and accountability though when it comes to evaluating people. Well some people do. There are terms like 'deal breaker' that are employed. But a lot of people don't really take Benjamin's falsifiable approach to a person's reputation.

It will take the rest of your life to prove, definitively that you are reliable. The instant you flake out though, you are unreliable. You cannot be relied on. This is the crucial distinction between '99% certain' and 'certainty' - the use of 'certain' in the former is a misnomer. 99% certain is uncertain. Thus the other 1% possibility needs to be provided for, or it needs to be acknowledged that you are indeed actually risking something.

Furthermore, in practice 99% certain looks a whole lot like 20% certain, and even 1% certain. Certainty has a particular property, that means one exception negates it's whole value.

I have brought issues I have to people, and often they have retorted that I wasn't being fair, and then tried to rebalance the ledgers with all the counter examples of behavior I don't have an issue with.

The argument is moot. If arguing with me, you are in practice defeating yourself. Because it's the act I take issue with that ruins all their counter points for them. It actually stresses Franklin's point above and further obliges them to address the issue.

'He physically assaulted me, but he threw a great surprise party just the month before, that takes more effort and thought than beating up somebody as weak as me!' No, doesn't work like that.

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