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9 Aug 2012

Cruise Ship Analogy: Quantification as an Illness

Emotions in Decision-makingImagine preparing to board a cruise ship, and a Quantnik stops you.

He asks, “What is your suitcase’s volume?”

You are puzzled and slowly say, “What? . . . I don’t know.”

“How about the ship?” he continues, “Do you know its volume?”

Again, puzzled, you respond tentatively, “Noooo.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but you cannot board the ship.”

Now, your puzzled stupor vanishes because you’ve anticipated this trip for some time. Thus, with raised voice, you now become the interrogator, “Why not!?”

With an insulting calmness, the Quantnik answers, “Because we don’t know if your luggage will fit on the ship.”

This irritates you because you feel any idiot can see that the luggage will fit. Yet, I find that it’s not uncommon in business to find stalled decisions because someone could not measure the desired outcome against the required inputs when the answer was intuitively simple. For example, in one case, there were persistent errors in shipping, causing upset customers. Yet, before establishing a process to fix it, several managers wanted to research the return we would get from the new process against our expected costs to establish the process. To this, the sales manager sarcastically responded, “By the time we research that, we won’t have any customers left.”

What is important to remember is that humans have a natural attraction to numbers; yet, this attraction can become an illness just as our attraction to fats and sugars can be (obesity). This doesn’t even include the many assumptions we often need to apply to arrive at the numbers we want. Therefore, just because numbers exist doesn’t mean we are any less subjective in our decision making than if numbers didn’t exist.

So, what are Quantniks? They are similar to alcoholics but the addiction is to numbers, and thus more quantifiable.



4 Responses

  1. Vladimir (@socialmediatry)

    Hehe…I am Quantnik for the number 42, for about 20+ years since the first time I read the Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (I am sure you heard of it 😉 and hope you read it too)

    1. Yes, Vladimir, I’ve heard of the book but have not read it. Perhaps it had my blog as one of its stops!? 🙂 Regardless, if there is a point from it that I should be taking in please share it with me. Thank you for visiting.

  2. ha! 42 is the very essence of this post, Mike. In the Hitchhikers’ Guide, people get a huge computer and ask it the question “What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?” It takes the computer a very long time to calculate and eventually it gives the answer 42. The people say “That makes no sense!” and teh reply is “Are you sure you are asking the right question?”

    You should read it.

    HOWEVER,there is a reason that we as a society have become enslaved to quantification. It is the mechanization, the science-ification of life.

    The standardization allows us to make repeatable and reliable systems that do our work for us. We have machines and computers that will make our lives easier, and hopefully leave us time to make it BETTER

    1. Mike Lehr

      Lol, I’ll have to read that book. Someone else had recommended it to me a while back. There is no doubt mechanization and science play a role. I do believe it’s much more than that. As I had mentioned in the “Statistical Subjectivity – The Essence of Rankings” (http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/?p=1325), we are emotionally driven to numbers out of a sense of security. Numbers are definitive in our reasoning; there’s no cloudiness. Numbers help us feel strength, security and certainty; that is their real emotional allure. Moreover, men tend to be drawn to numbers more so than women. A woman financial analyst who performed many business valuations found it hard to believe how intensely her male clients would seize on these numbers as something definitive when they were only the result of some assumptions she made.

      Yes, the factors you indicate play a role in quantification’s influence, but still, those aside, there is a huge emotional trigger that moves us toward them too.

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