Writer’s blecch: The season of blogging discontent

Here’s a little post just to get the juices flowing again.

It has been quite possibly the longest time between blog posts I’ve taken since launching this thing three years ago, and I’m not proud of that.  Between the demand of a nicely-diversified consulting practice, a good helping of friends and family, and a bit of angst with current events, I’ve just been un-mused.

It’s not that I haven’t seen strategic topics worth writing about.  I mean, here are the topics in my list.  Maybe you’d like them. The possibilities are endless:

  1. Maybe I could I pile onto the debacle that is unfolding at GE as CEO succession leads to a cost-cutting “renewal?” The title for that one might be “Ground the jets, it’s time to make a statement.”
  2. Or, perhaps it would be fun to wade into politics with a screed on how our demand for speed and 140 letter concise-ness in all things is leading us to be binary thinkers on pretty much any topic.  Maybe I could call it “You are either with me or against me so shut up.”  Or, better yet, “Antifa thinks you are un-cool so I hate you too.”
  3. Then, there’s the possibility to write on listening because, I mean, what better way to teach people to listen than to use a one-sided medium like a blog.  I might call that one “Listen to me while I talk at you.” Or, I could go with a Trumpier title like “I’m right-er than you.”
  4. Of course, there’s always fodder in the press about the economy, like how we are heading toward labor force Armageddon and how maybe a looser immigration policy might actually be good for economic growth.  We could call that one “maybe we should put a few more gates in that wall, after all.”
  5. Then, of course, there are other great business leadership topics that come to mind from time to time, like how too many people think strategy is–for some reason–sexy, but sales is greasy and grimy.  I could call that one “No business ever went anywhere without sales, but plenty of businesses have no strategy.”
  6. Or, maybe there is a chance to write on how men don’t have the monopoly on harassment in the workplace.  Maybe I can call that one “#Metoo and it’s no joke.” It’s unlikely that one gets written, folks. Too much water under that bridge.

There are plenty of options. But it’s just that I’ve been a bit overcome by the things I mentioned above, and perhaps a bit emotionally nagged by the onslaught of storms, mass murder, fires, a death in the family, and revelations of political and corporate malfeasance.  Indeed, I’ve been nagged enough to wonder whether commentary is really just another way of escaping responsibility.

Perhaps it’s not, but I needed to take a break.  I guess you could say that I had a case of writer’s blecch.

Hope your October is going swimmingly (well, at least not in a flood).

What Monty Hall taught us about strategy

New information is always valuable to your strategy in life, business, and the occasional game show.

Note: I woke up this morning and found an obituary to game show host Monty Hall of Let’s Make a Deal fame.  This is a draft that was buried deep in my queue that I thought might be a sort of mini-tribute to Mr. Hall.  RIP Monty.

Geoff Wilson

The famous game show host Monty Hall used to rule the airwaves with Let’s Make a Deal.  He left some lessons that matter a lot for your thinking on business (or career) strategy.

The Monty Hall problem

One of the most memorable aspects of the Let’s Make a Deal show was the “three doors” scenario.  In that scenario, Mr. Hall would show the contestant three doors with the promise of a fabulous prize behind one of them, and then have the contestant pick one. After the contestant picked, Monty would reveal what was behind one of the other two doors–usually some funny item like a goat…and then give the contestant a chance to change their original choice to the remaining (third, and unrevealed) door.

This little game, as simple as it is, has left us with what is known as the “Monty Hall Problem.” The correct solution to the little game is for the contestant to always switch doors to the remaining door (more on that in a second). The “problem” is that this solution is entirely counter-intuitive to even highly experienced and educated people. These people see the original choice as completely independent of the subsequent revelation and proffered opportunity to switch doors.  The say “the odds of winning were 1 in 3 at the start, and that didn’t change just because ol’ Monty revealed what was behind one of the other doors.”

And, they are wrong.

The answer is to always switch, and while the explanation of that answer can be done quantitatively through multiple means (that link above has plenty of them), the simplest explanation that I have encountered is this: Imagine that instead of three doors, Monty presents 100 doors, still with only one of them containing a fabulous prize.  Then, the contestant chooses one. Monty then opens 98 of the remaining 99 doors to reveal that each one is worthless, leaving one unopened door.  What should the contestant do now?

It’s much clearer now that Monty has presented very valuable information by revealing 98 doors as worthless. So the one door Monty hasn’t revealed becomes very likely the one with the prize.  The contestant goes from a choice that had a 1% chance of success to one that is nearly certain to win by switching.

All this is well and good, but why does it matter?

It matters because you are faced with opportunities to make choices based on updated information all the time.  And, sticking with your prior choices when new information says that doing so is a bad idea makes you…un-smart. I’ve written on the value of this kind of thinking before, in one of my earliest posts.  But the “three doors” as a specific case plays out more often than you think.

You might be making choices about what markets to emphasize and settle on two of them because you think that your product is competitive. Then, you find out one of them is no longer a good fit.  Maybe the competition launched a killer app.  What do you do?  You switch.  That might mean you develop your own product, but it definitely means you update, you adjust.

One that hits close to home for me relates to career choices. Perhaps you’ve cast your lot with a boss who looked interesting and visionary at the start when you took the job, but who after a few years of exposure is revealed to be a tyrant and schemer. What do you do?  Do you stick with your original boss choice because you already chose?  Not at all.  Ol’ Monty taught you something:  Switch!!!

Just remember, when you’ve picked door number 1, it doesn’t mean you are stuck with it.  Your experience provides you with some additional valuable information, and sometimes it makes sense to switch your choice.

Thank you Monty Hall!

What do you think?