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October  2012
Observations - 5 Pass-Fail Tests
       October 2012 The Headscratcher Post Headscratchers LLC    Edition 85

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Observations - 5 Pass-Fail Tests

We define Observations as information you receive by reading, such as newspapers, internet, books, and emails, or hearing it from someone else, such as news broadcasts, conversations, etc. Observations include all that you don't know to be absolutely true (those we call facts) and you haven't personally experienced (experiences).

How do you determine how much credence to give an observation? If you conclude the observation is true (Pass), you might take one action, while if you think it is not true (Fail), you might take another. One method of evaluating observations is to run it through "tests". Here are 5 to consider:

Feasibility - Is the observation (what you're reading , etc) realistic?

  • You get an email that says "you have inherited fifty millions dollars from a distant relative in East Swambobia" - Fail
  • There's a rumor about a layoff - Pass
  • You hear they have found a planet with possible life forms - Pass (50 years ago, probably Fail, but with all the recent planet discovers, yes, feasible)

Consistency - Is what you are observing consistent with either what you know to be true, or consistent with several other observations you have had?

  • You read something on Wikipedia and you read the same on several fairly reputable websites - Pass
  • A rumor about a layoff is consistent with a conversation you had a week ago with your manager - Pass
  • A habitually tardy employee said they were late for the meeting because there was a lot of traffic. No one else is late or had traffic, you were not late, there were no accidents reported, and the weather is nice. It's possible, but not consistent with other observations - Fail

Track Record - Can the observation be evaluated based on track record?

  • Everyone has just boarded the airplane, doors are shut, and the pilot announces that there is an indicator light out and they have to reboot the computers and "we'll be on our way in 10 minutes". Feasible - Pass, Consistent (sure rebooting fixes a lot of computer issues) - Pass, Track Record - Few "Delays" on a plane are 10 minutes (you would be pleasantly surprised if it really was 10 minutes) - Fail
  • The weather forecast says "90% chance of heavy rain". Feasible - Pass, Consistent (multiple sources call for rain) - Pass, Track Record (Unlike weather predictions of 30 years ago, these days it's pretty good) - Pass

Reliable Source - The source of the information is deemed to be reliable

  • A good customer of yours indicates that they plan on buying 20% more products from you over the next year. Feasible - Pass, Consistent (they give us a forecast each year) - Pass, Track Record (their forecast has been accurate for 7 years) - Pass, Reliable Source (My customer contact is the decision maker) - Pass
  • A friend of a friend of a friend said - Source unknown - Fail

Verified - The observation can be verified by you or a reliable source

  • You just read in an email from one of your peers that the project you proposed was approved by upper management. Feasible - Pass, Consistent (projects get approved or not approved at the beginning of the month, and it's the beginning of the month) - Pass, Track Record - Pass, you would have expected them to approve it as they have a good track record of approving good projects, Reliable Source (your peer has no motive to make it up and said they saw it on the approval list) - Pass, Verifiable - Pass (you or someone else can also check the approved / disapproved project list).

A note on The Presidential Debates. Nearly everything you heard were observations even though the candidates said they were facts. What should you take as true vs. just something they say to win votes? The "fact" checkers afterwards try to help you, but how do you know what they say is true. Ask, if it's feasible, consistent, look at the track record, the source of the statements, and see if you, or someone else can verify it. You might not be able know absolutely true or false, but this process will raise and/or lower your confidence.

The Takeaway: Observations ... Pass (true) or Fail (false). Most of the actions you take have observations as a factor in your decision. Ask a couple of questions to give you confidence in what you are reading and/or hearing. This method will allow you to be justifiably skeptical or confident in how you interpret and use Observations.

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