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Thoughtful Thursday: What to observe?

“The more we look, the more to see: altering this reality”  — Zumwalt

In order to interpret, evaluate and ultimately understand, one has to observe.

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However, there is so much out there to observe.  It’s overwhelming.  So we run into an apparent paradox: one must know, to some degree, what to observe, yet one cannot know without first observing, interpreting, recognizing, filtering, connecting, comparing, evaluating and have some level of realization.

And so one cannot ever start from scratch. There will always be some initial observation from earlier or from others that one relies on in order to determine what next to observe.

Observing then becomes a process of narrowing down and expanding what one observes.  To be efficient this is not a random process, but one driven by the formulation of an objective.

For example, “I need to eat” is an objective.  With that objective one then observes — or collects data — in areas that will be more likely to provide the necessary input to increase one’s success at an action designed to obtain food for eating.

If we are a retail chain,  like Kohl’s, Macy’s or Sears, we must determine our objective.  Is it to increase revenue, lower costs, or increase profit margin.? Or is it a less basic objective like increase in-store traffic or increase brand awareness which may be considered an objective in order to achieve the more specific objective of increased revenue through building customer loyalty?

Having a hypothesis can help narrow down what to observe, but a hypothesis should not be formulated too early in the process or opportunities to achieve an objective can be missed.   Instead it is best to look for patterns in the data, and then determine what is a likely hypothesis based on that data as opposed to starting with an hypothesis and thus missing the opportunity of identifying more likely hypotheses.

For example, if my objective is to cross a river and I start with the hypothesis that one can cross the river on a structure that floats on water, I may miss out on noticing that 200 yards downstream someone has built a bridge, or the river becomes shallow enough to cross on foot, or that the river becomes an underground stream.

So important to keep the objective in mind, identify what data can be collected (what can be observed), and not prematurely limit the data that one will analyze.

With companies like JC Penney and Macy’s currently fighting against declining same- store sales, it seems like they missed out on observing several years ago how Amazon was increasing book sales and ultimately positioning itself to sell other items online — items that were also sold in shopping mall department stores.  What were they observing? What was their hypothesis?

Five year stock chart for JC Penney
jcp

Five year stock chart for Macy’sm5y

At this point, have these companies learned the hard way what data they need to look at?  (If so, now may be a good time to buy their stocks.  If not, expect further losses for JCPenney and further same store sale declines for Macy’s.)

There is a lot out there to observe.  The first step is to clearly understand one’s objective and then focus on observing those things that will help achieve that objective.  For music, if one wants to dance, observe (listen to) the beat  — this means focus on the drums and the bass, If one wants wants to play along, focus on what the chord progressions are for the verse and chorus.  If one wants to ignore the music, focus on something besides the music.

Don’t worry about formulating an hypothesis until we has examined enough relevant data for that intended objective to see what are recurring patterns.  Fortunately in the data analysis world there is software (Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning) that can identify patterns in the data.  Without software, one can take notes, reflect and follow the steps in my diagram below: observe a significant amount of data, recognize what are the patterns that appear relevant to your objective, filter out the irrelevant data to focus on that data that has the patterns of interest, evaluate that data, understand its nature and then form a plan of action to gather or observe more of that data as necessary.

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Eventually one can form a hypothesis and scrutinize that hypothesis each time one goes through the “comparison”, “evaluate” and “realize” steps to know if that hypothesis is correct or not.  If that hypothesis is not appropriate, then one needs to formulate a better hypothesis that is aligned with previously collected data and will predict future observations.  There is no such thing, though, as a correct hypothesis — there is only a workable hypothesis — one that provides the necessary guidance to act successfully. Where people get in trouble is when they stubbornly or subconsciously hold on to a premise or hypothesis that is not successfully predicting outcomes and then continue to act on that premise or hypothesis as if it was reliable.

No belief is important enough to hold on to when it doesn’t align with verified observations. Such beliefs end up doing everyone more harm than good.

Thoughtful Thursday: Preconceptions

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“You must challenge your preconceptions or they will challenge you” — Penny A.Proctor (You may hear this first quote in the upcoming new Star Trek series on CBS taken from a short story by Penny A. Proctor)

“Mistakenly thinking you know usually results in not knowing mistaken thinking later on.” — Zumwalt

IQ tests sometimes contain questions that, though not particularly hard, will not be answered correctly if one falls back on preconceptions rather than solving the problem on its own terms: doing the work rather than taking a short cut by falling back on what one accepts as given truths

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

If one starts with preconceptions, one goes for the easy answer.  If one just works through this without jumping at the misleading “short cut” then one gets the correct answer.

If one even checks their preconceived wrong answer, then they will soon have the right answer.  The wrong answer of 10 cents for the ball doesn’t stand up as 10 cents for the ball, plus one dollar extra than the price of the ball for the bat at $1.10 sums up to $1.20.

One way to solve the problem is rely on simple algebra:

x (price of ball); y (price of bat)

x + 1.00 = y  –> y-x = 1.00

x + y = 1.10 –> y+x = 1.10

Add these 2 equations up and we get 2y – 2.10  or y = 1.05 so the bat is $1.05 and the ball is .05.

Even if we don’t use algebra but try a few guesses, checking our guesses will eventually get us to the right number.

But the way that life works for most of us, most of the time, is that we make assumptions and never ever check them, making decisions on top of bad assumptions.

Bill is stalking Mary. Mary is stalking John. Bill is married, but John is not. Is a married person stalking an unmarried person?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Cannot be determined from the given information

Once again, if we fall into the trap of lazy thinking, we may never work through this problem finding the right answer and end up agreeing with 80% of people that choose answer #3. It really doesn’t matter that we don’t know Mary’s marital status.  If she is single, it is then Bill, the married person, that is looking at an unmarried person, and if she is married, then Mary is the married person looking at an unmarried person.

We rarely object to an instance of a person saying “that’s my spouse” (“that’s my wife”, “that’s my husband”) or “that’s my child.”  And so, it’s no issue to say “that’s my dog” or “that’s my cat.”  But we would object to saying “I am the owner of this husband” or “I am the owner of this child.”  Should we also object to one saying “I am this dog’s owner.” Does one own the dog or is it a partnership? If the dog runs away, the “owner” can get the pet back.  The “owner” can decide to trade the dog for money or put the dog to sleep. In ancient Greece and in 19th century America, people owned other people, and could trade them and even put them to death.  The people in the past re-examined ownership of people and determined this was unacceptable in any way, shape or form.  Should we examine our relationships with our pets, or just accept our preconceptions and continue on.

Anchoring is a sales and marketing ploy that takes advantage of our tendency to have preconceptions.  This is very common in the cruise industry where cruise lines offer “limited” 2-for-1 permanent cruise sales or have a brochure starting price that’s double (or more) than the actually offered price:cruise3

Preconceptions are the most troublesome when we don’t know about them. In doing data analysis it’s the bad data that we don’t know about the messes up the results.  Any belief that one doesn’t examine for its accuracy (maybe not examined as one isn’t aware of the belief or thinks it is correct) will influence one’s final decisions and analyses, often making actions based on such decisions and analysis worse than random actions. Anchor prices are used to take advantage of our tendency to lock on to the earliest data we have about something and to subconsciously put more weight or more credence in the earlier or earliest obtained data than later data, even though analytically we often chose to prefer more recent data over older data.

Take the time to examine what data is used to make an important decision and challenge the validity of that data.  By identifying the bad data or erroneous preconceptions and not using them to base a decision on,  one can significantly increase their likelihood of acting appropriately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughtful Thursday: Observing, Comparison and Evaluating

“Knowingly, and unknowingly, I relentlessly measure everything you do,
And that’s okay, as long as I don’t then pretend that I have ever measured you.”
— Zumwalt

“Accuracy of observation is the equivalent of accuracy of thinking.” — Wallace Stevens

We can observe what one does or what they have.

We cannot observe who they are.  We are basically limited to observing what they do and have. And usually, we only see a very small percentage of that.

But even if we saw everything, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, we would be left with only seeing manifestations and phenomena, not the essence of who people truly are.  We may know it’s safe or dangerous to be around this or that person in this or that circumstance, but we have no direct understanding of those people, we make the leap from observing what they do to who they are.

So its pointless to compare ourselves to others.  We can compare what we do to what someone else does.  Or we can compare what someone has to what we have.  Just don’t fool yourself that you can compare yourself to anyone else.

The truth is that you cannot measure anyone.  You can measure their body. You can measure the size or weight of their brain, their heart, their stomach.  With the right equipment, you could even count the number of neurons in their brain, the number of synaptic connections, and, if using top-of-the-line (though still futuristic) equipment, the number of neurotransmitters and their motion and chemical composition.

To say the heart, the stomach or the brain is the person is a large leap of illogic and foolishness.  To say the body (containing the heart, stomach, brain and several gallons of water) is the person is also not true.  Maybe removing an appendix, a few skin cells, a couple of liters of water, or consuming a bit too much at a cruise ship buffet changes the viewpoint or experience of the person , but so can reading a book or watching a movie or interacting with someone else — and we don’t confuse the books on your bookshelf or your friends and family with you.  Or do we?  Yes, we often do! Since we cannot observe you, we observe things around you and use these are proxies for measuring you.

Be careful that what you observe is relevant to what you evaluate.  Do not observe the behavior of ducks in the park and assume that you have collected pertinent data to evaluate the behavior of wolves in the wild.  Do not observe the behavior of a person, and assume that you can evaluate the person: you can only evaluate their behavior.

Data seduces us.  We see data and we sometimes don’t stop to see if this data is relevant, complete or appropriate for our analysis.  Our process of drawing conclusions may be sound, but if we are not observing what we need to observe, then we cannot expect valid comparisons or evaluations and this in turn will impact our understanding and any subsequent action.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Feeling the Future

bela lugosi

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”  — Albert Einstein

You, predictable reader, follow these words and I know that what you read next is what I write now.” — Zumwalt

It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards”  — From “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Caroll

Time may not be what it seems.  Sometimes what we assume is true is not: our senses may initially lead us to believe the sun revolves around the earth, but if we observe beyond what is most self-evident, and carefully examine a wider range of data then we must conclude that the earth revolves around the sun. As in the case with planetary bodies,  it may be that our sense of time is based on our frame of reference and not a true understanding of reality.

Physics has provided evidence during our lifetime that the future can determine the past.  The most famous example is the “quantum eraser” experiment. One can google this or check out this article: http://iheartintelligence.com/2017/01/20/quantum-experiment-present-past/.  One can even try this experiment at home: https://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow/a-do-it-yourself-quantum-eraser/\

Is there any chance of sensing the future?  Some studies, like the famous, but controversial and legitimately challenged, Cornell University trials indicate this may be possible: http://dbem.ws/FeelingFuture.pdf

As a graduate student in music, perhaps as a break from listening to too much atonal music, I became interested in parapsychology experiments, and read numerous journals in our large college library covering this topic. There were a couple of experiments with cockroaches that really impressed me. One was an experiment by Helmut Schmidt in which he placed various laboratory animals on a divided electrical grid with a 50% chance of the shock going to the area where the animal was.  Schmidt recorded that in most trials (and these trials included hundreds of shocks), the gerbil, guinea pig or other small animal ended up being shocked around 48 to 49 percent of the time.  Schmidt was a sloppy researcher and it is not clear if this statistically significant number was due to Schmidt’s own psi abilities influencing the outcomes, or the animal’s psi abilities protecting themselves. When he put cockroaches to the test, he found they ended up being shocked 52 percent of the time as opposed to the expected 50 percent of the time. Schmidt admitted his particular dislike of cockroaches, and so it is not clear if the cockroaches were masochistic or whether it was Schmidt’s distaste for them that influenced the outcome.

Schmidt

A later researcher, revising Schmidt’s experiment, placed the cockroaches on a divided grid, with one or the other side receiving a shock and providing the cockroaches the freedom and time to travel to one side or the other.  In this experiment, the researcher recorded whether the cockroaches ended up on the side that received the electrical charge or the side that did not get the charge. Again, the result was that the cockroaches got shocked around 51 to 52 percent of the time depending on the set of trials. Were the cockroaches anticipating the future, even if there actions were not in their best interests? Or was the researcher somehow still influencing the cockroaches to get punished slightly more than expected?  Perhaps it doesn’t matter, as neither the various Schmidt experiments nor this follow-up experiment with the divided grid was ever able to be consistently replicated with the same significant results.

In the recent, and earlier referenced, Cornell set of experiments,  the most interesting ones, (okay — I concede that some may find the salacious-content experiments more interesting), are the two similar experiments addressing “Retroactive Facilitation of Recall.”  Basically the subjects are asked to look at a set of words. After this is done,  they are given a recall test (not being told about this beforehand) and each participant’s ability to recall what they have memorized is recorded.  The computer selects, randomly, half the words the subjects had previously looked at as study material, and then the students study these words.  It turns out the subjects do much better on recalling the words they had studied after the test then those they had not. Basically, this proves that if one is unable to find time to study for a test beforehand, they can always study after the test and improve their test scores — at least slightly.  (This is why, when I pick losing lottery ticket numbers, I always carefully study the winning numbers and carefully commit them to memory to increase my chances of having picked the right numbers in the first place: if I am/was successful, I not only get some extra pocket-change, but get back any time I had spent studying those numbers.)

The key here, from a very practical standpoint, is not whether others can sometimes sense the future, but whether you or I can sense the future and, if possible, how best to develop that ability.   As one might guess (or sense), there are many online opportunities to research this further. Now that I told you this, I have increased your chances of already knowing this, and I suspect that you are thinking to yourself that, yes, you already knew this, and you really don’t need to waste you time reading this blog which isn’t disclosing anything new to you at all. This of course, is what you are thinking now that you have read this. If you had read a blog on politics or music, instead, you wouldn’t be thinking this at all. If you had read a blog on politics, you probably wouldn’t even be thinking.

Back to the present, please. Let’s take a look at one particular online test:  http://www.psychicscience.org/staring.aspx

First, do the practice trial to get a sense of how simple this experiment/test is.

When doing an actual trial, my only advice is to not base your guesses on what already happened, but what you feel is about to happen.  In other words, don’t let three or four blank screens in a row bias you to select the “staring” screen based on some misunderstanding of probability.  Stay in the present and realize each display has a fifty-fifty chance of being either blank or a staring screen and don’t let what occurred before influence your decision/guess/prediction. Just feel whether you will be stared at or not and then pick your choice based on that feeling. (This may be the same sensation you get when you feel someone on the other side of the room is staring at you.  I often get this feeling when I shout and yell at the waiter or waitress in the restaurant — or when they yell at me.)

Also, best to stay relaxed and let yourself get in “the zone.” Don’t let a string of successes put pressure on you. If you feel such pressure, it may be best to take a break and come back. The screen will wait for you. (If you need to take a break, you can read some Zumwalt poems liked by previous readers. Note that any poems you click “like” on may influence anyone that read them in the past to have clicked “like” also.)

Developing an ability to feel what will happen next, may be like developing any skill.  It takes repeated practice, day after day, for an allocated time each and every day.  It is very similar to ear training exercises like this one: http://pitchimprover.com/index.php?type=Relative

After doing this http://www.psychicscience.org/staring.aspx exercise every day, for several months, please let me know if you have seen any improvement.  If so, it may motivate me to do the same. If you can’t seem to improve your ability to see into the future, don’t feel bad, at least knowing this limitation in the future should translate in your spending less time on these exercises in the here and now — or even not bothering to read this blog post.

 

 

Thoughtful Thursday: Interpretation and steps prior to Action

In the previous post, I presented my own take on the DIKW pyramid as something useful for both business improvement, and if one is so inclined, self-improvement. I proposed a model that, rather than address, “Data”, “Information”, “Knowledge”, “Wisdom”, focused on the transformation of data into action.

I really had eleven steps originally, but to prior to finalizing the post, I thought best to simplify by collapsing one of the steps, “Interpret” into “Evaluate.”

Act

On reflection, “Interpret” is a necessary step much of the time.  For example, if the data quality is compromised, then one has to interpret that into usable commodity.  And collapsing it into “Evaluate” was not very appropriate as interpretation must occur very early on, not only before “Evaluate” but before “Recognize.”  For example, one is in a foreign country and one hears some strange words, then one must look them up in Google Translate (or have an app translate them) into a language one understands before one recognizes what is being said.

There is another adjustment needed besides adding “Intepret”.

After one understands, then one can act. But there are steps that are either are part of act or happen before action and these include preparation and planning. I still have these as a part of “Act” — preparing and planning are actions — but have added a missing step, “Conceive” which must occur before any action,  whether that action is preparation, creating a plan, or something as non-conscious and mechanical as clenching one’s teeth before the start of a race or taking a deep breath before speaking.

Here is an improved or enhanced version of the earlier diagram, starting with “Observe” and ending with “Act” — which can then be followed by additional observation.

 

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Is this accurate? How can this be improved?  Appreciate your thoughts in the comments.

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