May  2008     Edition 37
Fuzzy Thinking

Fuzzy Thinking exists in the world between yes and no

, right and wrong, and true and false.  Fuzzy thinking has meaning along a scale, and not just at the endpoints.  (For those who love mathematics, study up on fuzzy logic).

He is tall.

  What defines a tall person?  Over 6 feet? Over 6 foot 1 inch?  Let’s say it’s 6 feet, 4 inches.  Does that mean that someone who is 6 feet 3 and ¾ inches isn’t tall?  If a “tall” person (6 feet 4 inches), stood next to a person who was 1/100 of an inch shorter, would one person be “tall” and the other “not tall”?.

It is hot outside!  What is hot?

  Is it over 95 degrees F?  If so, then what is 94.9 degrees? … “almost hot”?  You might say “It is pretty darn hot”.  What would 94 degrees be? .. .how about “fairly hot”?, and 93 degrees?  When does it become “Not Hot”?  There is no definitive answer .. it’s a scale that goes from hot to cold with no specific switchover point.

When does the red become not red and when does it become blue?

Clearly, Red is on the left and Blue on the right, and Purple in the middle, but the rest is Fuzzy!  Red to Blue

We almost hit our customer satisfaction number

.  Let’s say you conducted a survey for customer satisfacton, and your goal was a rating of 4.5 out of 5, and you got 4.49.  You did not achieve your goal of 4.5.  No fuzz here at all.  What if you were coming from a 3.75 and you got 4.49 vs a 4.5.  Would you do anything differently?  If you had received a 4.0, you might do a lot of different things.  At what rating would your actions change from not doing anything more, to do more, to doing a lot more?

The world is Gray (or is it Grey?).

   Many measurements in business fall along a scale ranging from “none” to “all”, of a specific measure.  This range is defined by variables that include “almost”, “not quite”, “a little”, “a lot”, and the gazillion adjectives and adverbs that exist due to our Fuzzy world.

Fuzzy Thinking isn’t about probability.

  It’s not like “There is a 40% chance of rain”.  That is about statistics and probability.  Fuzzy Thinking is “It will be a Heavy Rain”.  Heavy rain is defined by the World Meteorological Organization as 50 mm in 24 hours.  So if it rains 49.99 mm in 24 hours then technically the rain was not heavy.  Try telling that to the people who were rained on.

Dealing with Fuzzy

.  So how do you deal with a description of something when that very description changes due to individuals and circumstances?  How do you deal with the fact that something is “close” to being something without being that something.  (Note: “close” is a fuzzy expression!).

Critical Thinking reconciles Fuzzy Thinking

because you ask questions about the signficance and relevance of the “Fuzziness”.   If a company “almost” hits its revenue target, or customer satisfaction goal, additional questions will yield answers about how to interpret the fuzziness of “almost”.

The Takeaway:
   We use Fuzzy thinking all the time and in much of what we measure and communicate.  One way to deal with it is to ask “So What?”, i.e. what is the relevance and the meaning of the measurement or statement. It's the relevance that is important, not the measurement.

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