Students of math and physics understand the difference between a scalar and a vector. People who are trying to deal with the complexity of life should notice the difference. The idea translates well and helps with decisions making.
Simply put, a scalar represents magnitude, like speed or temperature, while a vector displays both magnitude and some other contextual variable, like direction. It is a crucial mistake to treat a scalar as a vector. Fifty degrees does not mean anything unless you know when, where and whether Fahrenheit or Celsius degrees are reported. Context is king.
The same is true in life. To treat a statistic as a fact is wrong. Statistics are scalar. Facts are vector. They have context. Context is what allows a person to simplify. Simplifying comes from connections to other facts and eventually to a large structure – knowledge. You cannot derive knowledge from a statistic. Soooo?
You cannot make good decisions without going well past the statistical. You need context of what is available, what your contribution must be and what you want from the decision. To reach that point, you must cull all of the things that don’t fit. A good deal of sound decision making involves deciding what you won’t be doing.
That is hard for many people. They like to keep their options open. They don’t want to reverse an older decision to try something new. They hate to reject anything or anyone.
But they must. Ambiguity is not helpful. Decisions clarify direction even though sometimes wrong. Decisions create simplicity by deleting distractions.
Have you heard of Marco Pierre White? He is a British chef who still holds the title of youngest chef ever to acquire three Michelin stars. He is deemed to be the original celebrity chef. He runs his restaurants by this idea:
Complexity causes confusion.
Confusion creates inconsistency.
Inconsistency creates failure.
Somehow in the world at large, complexity and the resulting confusion has become the norm.
We cannot change the fact that our environment is complex. We can however, change how we relate to it and we can do that by deciding which parts of it represent our particular context. It may be true that Iran or China or North Korea are existential threats, but my day to day life is not affected by that. There is nothing I can do so I should ignore it. I can hope that those who can do something are doing it, but even that is too much involvement.
I don’t have time or energy or resources to waste on things outside my control. Worse than being wasteful, they confuse me and confusion is the second step in the three step march to failure.
Scalars and statistics are quite possibly true but meaningless. Like the Kardashians.
Truth and meaning are not tightly connected. You must select the details and indicators that fit your context and pay attention to them. You should pay no attention to the rest.
Addition by subtraction.
Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.
Please be in touch if I can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org 866-285-7772