Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Taste Of Victory

The year was 1978 and I was in Upper Six at King Edward VII School, Taiping. We had a fantastic rugby team for the first time in years and were fresh from victories in two friendlies (Bukit Mertajam High School and Sultan Abdul Hamid College) and two district games (Vocational School and St Georges Taiping). The team had scored a total of more than 200 points and not only had no team crossed our try-line, none managed to score a single point! We were formidable but we were next to play Malay College Kuala Kangsar; a team we had not beaten since the early sixties! 15 years to be exact.

Just before the game, our charismatic new coach Mr Yew Siew Seng showed up with a bottle of what looked like plain water. He said the water was air jampi from a bomoh in nearby Kampung Air Kuning and he was serious in that only the Muslim players be allowed to take a sip each. The rest of us pork-eating players were not supposed to. The team created history that day. We beat MCKK 26-12 to lift the Perak schools title officially for the first time, enroute to winning the national championship. It was our toughest game that season but needless to say, the boys played like they had raging fire in their bellies.

I found out later that the water actually came from a school tap and of course with nary any chlorine let alone incantations from a shaman!

Now you will understand Seth Godin's snippet below better.

Folk wisdom and proofiness

"Is it feed a cold, starve a fever, or the other way around, I can never remember?"

Does it matter if you get the rhyme wrong? A folk remedy that doesn't work doesn't work whether or not you say it right.

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about a baseball team on a losing streak. On the road for a doubleheader, the team visited a town that was home to a famous faith healer. While the guys were warming up, the manager disappeared. He came back an hour later with a big handful of bats. "Guys, these bats were blessed and healed by the guru. Our problems are over."

According to the story, the team snapped out of their streak and won a bunch of games. Some people wonder, "did the faith healer really touch the bats, or was the manager making it up?" Huh? Does it matter?

Mass marketers have traditionally abhorred measurement, preferring rules of thumb, casting calls and alchohol instead. Yet, there's no real correlation between how the ad was made and how well it works.

As the number of apparently significant digits in the data available to us goes up (traffic was up .1% yesterday!) we continually seek causation, even if we're looking in the wrong places. As the amount of data we get continues to increase, we need people who can help us turn that data into information.

It's important, I think, to understand when a placebo is helpful and when it's not. We shouldn't look to politicians to tell us whether or not the world is getting warmer (and what's causing it). They're not qualified or motivated to turn the data into information. We also shouldn't look to a fortune teller on the corner to read our x-rays or our blood tests.

Proofiness is a tricky thing. Data is not information, and confusing numbers with truth can help you make some bad decisions.

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