Reality Straight Up!

Thoughts & Observations of a Free Range Astrophysicist

Never Bet the Farm on an Idea You Haven’t Tried to Kill First

Many a business postmortem begins with, “I wish I had seen that coming.” The obvious question is, “So why didn’t you?” The painful answer is usually, “Because I wasn’t looking.”

When things go south we usually have no one to blame but ourselves. As I discussed in Knowledge Can Be a Very Dangerous Illusion, decisions can be no better than the knowledge upon which they are based. In the business world confirmation bias and the illusion of knowledge are a one-two punch that is responsible for the vast majority of business failure.

Now for the good news. It doesn’t have to be that way.

A Simple Challenge That Will Change the Way You Do Business

Humans have an extraordinary ability to change not only what we think, but also how we think.  Confirmation bias and the illusion of knowledge are as deadly as they are easy and natural, but they do not form a prison in which we are trapped without hope. There is a way out.

I like to give business leaders a simple challenge. Take 15 minutes and jot down a few ideas that are central to the way you do business. Then as you go about your day look for indications that those ideas might have problems. Do that and I’ll bet you a good bottle of Scotch that a year from now there are things that you will be doing differently.

A Different Standard for Knowledge

What I am describing is nothing short of a redefinition of knowledge. Reliable knowledge doesn’t come from being content that you are right. Reliable knowledge comes from actively looking for indications that your ideas are wrong!

If an idea can withstand that kind of scrutiny then it shouldn’t let you down in a pinch. But if an idea can’t stand the heat then it was never your friend in the first place, no matter how comfortable it might have seemed. The more important an idea is, the more fervently you should look for its flaws. Better to find out now instead of waiting until you are lying in a ditch.

To sum it up in a few words, never bet the farm on an idea that you haven’t tried to kill first!

When push comes to shove this is the only game in town. It can be uncomfortable to take off your blinders and look reality squarely in the face. But a competitive world doesn’t care much about your comfort. Business is ultimately about the bottom line, and the bottom line is clear.

It’s not a question of whether it’s comfortable to change the way you approach knowledge. It’s a question of whether you can afford not to.

Never Bet the Farm on an Idea You Haven’t Tried to Kill First  © Dr. Jeff Hester
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Reality Straight Up!

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    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

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    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

    Read Article

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    Read Article

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    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

    Read Article

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Recent Article Mobile

  • Cassandra Smiling  Science, politics and a march in the rainPosted in For Your Consideration
  • EPA Rehash  A suddenly partisan NASA faces its futurePosted in Thoughts
  • The Hermeneutics of  Bunk  Alan Sokal and postmodernism’s black eyePosted in For Your Consideration
  • A Dunning-Kruger Universe  Everyone, it seems, has a “theory”Posted in For Your Consideration
  • Our Need to Know  We crave certainty, even when it is only an illusionPosted in CoachingThoughts
  • A Saguaro’s universe  Building a cactus starts with the Big BangPosted in For Your Consideration
  • Oklahoma Skies  To all the amateurs out there, thanks!Posted in For Your Consideration
  • Fight-or-Flight  How our Pleistocene brains (mis)handle modern threatsPosted in Coaching
  • In a Shark’s Eye  Science and the experience of wonderPosted in For Your Consideration
  • The Quandry of Unpredictability  Chaos, climate and an unpredictable futurePosted in For Your Consideration
  • Why I March for SciencePosted in Thoughts
  • Waiting for Skynet  The benefits of being a machinePosted in For Your Consideration
  • On a cold day in April, 2017 scientists gathered in Washington DC and cities around the world for the March for Science. Their message was a single powerful idea. Truth is not a political expediency. Reality cannot be ignored. In the year that has followed the vital importance of that message has only grown.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • When I look at NASA’s new Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, it is his fellow Oklahoman Scott Pruitt’s EPA that jumps to mind. As politically uncomfortable science is pushed aside, NASA’s history of nonpartisanship appears headed for an abrupt end. Will a strongly partisan NASA have a target on its back?

  • Some years ago, NYU physicist Alan Sokal wondered whether anti-science postmodernists could recognize politically-correct-sounding nonsense even if he rubbed their noses in it. The unwitting subjects of the Sokal Hoax jumped at the bait.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Some people are sure they know more than the experts, but it can take a lot of knowledge to realize just how wrong an idea is.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • The human brain craves the sensation of knowing like a drug addict craves the next fix. If real knowledge is uncomfortable or not at hand, we are quite content to just make something up, then convince ourselves it’s real. In a world where knowledge matters, that’s dangerous.

  • The iconic saguaro cactus gives the desert an otherwordly beauty. That beauty does not exist in isolation. It embodies the fascinating and awe-inspiring processes that have shaped the universe, going all the way back to the Big Bang itself.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Looking at room full of amateur astronomers, gathered for the Okie-Tex Star Party under the spectacularly dark skies of the Oklahoma Panhandle, I am reminded of my own roots and those who helped me discover the universe.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • A strong fight-or-flight reaction served our evolutionary ancestors well. If the leopard catches you, that’s it! But today a visceral response to a not-so-mortal threat seldom improves things. If you want to get a handle on those intense, counterproductive bouts of emotion, start by understanding where fight-or-flight came from in the first place.

  • Alone, 100 feet underwater, with a shark in its element, I am overwhelmed by a mixture of awe, beauty, joy, and intellectual wonder at the world that brings us together. In that moment, I experience just what science is all about.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Chaos is a sticky wicket for science. There are things a correct theory like climate change cannot predict, but there are a lot of things that it can. It’s important to understand which is which.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • On Earth Day, April 22, 2017, people around the nation will March for Science. It seems strange to need to march in support of the idea that pronouncements from politicians cannot change the nature of reality, or that evidence matters when making decisions. But such are the peculiar times in which we live.

  • For biological organisms, interstellar travel is hopelessly difficult, and probably pointless. For sentient machines, however, home is the environment you were built for.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
©Dr. Jeff Hester LLC, 5301 S. Superstition Mountain Dr., Suite 104 #171, Gold Canyon, AZ 85118