Monday, April 13, 2015

The world is seen differently

From Hillary's Rollout: What Might the Minor Flaws Indicate? by Sean Trende. I am not particularly focused on his political analysis in this article but rather Trende's opening paragraph:
When I was a young law firm associate, one of the most difficult lessons I had to learn was the importance of overwhelmingly careful attention to detail. If, as a law student, you have a typo in a paper, or even an error of fact, your grade is unlikely to change dramatically. In the real world, it is a different story. A typo in a brief can ruin your credibility with partners, and erode it with the court. It isn’t that the errors are damning in themselves. It is the concern they raise about a possible lack of care in other, more relevant ways that aren’t as obvious. Did the lawyer run down all of the precedents? Did he miss a nuance in the precedents? Were quotes copied carefully?
In high stakes, high complexity, high consequences professions or environments, I think this description is very accurate and is substantially unfamiliar to those much greater number not in such professions. For the high stakes, high complexity, high consequences professions I am thinking of law, medicine, accounting, consulting, finance, the military, police, EMTs, high-level sports, etc. I'll call these High Octane professions.

The demand for precision, accuracy, and reliability is overwhelming because the context is so uncertain, complex, unpredictable and the consequences are so grave.

In most professions and sectors, the latitude for error is much greater. The consequences are less, the opportunities for remediation are greater, the probability of being revealed are less. These are Low Octane professions. Not that they are unimportant by any means. There are plenty of important long term consequences arising from being a good teacher or a bad one. But there are almost never widespread consequences that can't be easily reversed for any ten-minute segment of a teacher's day.

My point is two-fold. Probably at most 10% of the population work in the high stakes, high complexity, high consequences arenas and the other 90% are more accustomed to low stakes, greater predictability and fewer consequences. The populations are different, not in terms of race or religion or gender but in terms of how they think, experience and interact with the world. It is not good or bad, it is simply different.

Problems arise when there is cross-over from one arena to another. The exacting standards of High Octane are not well adapted to the circumstances of Low Octane and Low Octane participants have a hard time comprehending the circumstances of those in High Octane professions. As an example, I would categorize journalism as low octane. It is very rare for there to be material negative consequences arising from even the most dreadful reporting. For example, the UVA Rape Hoax by Erdely was about as bad as you can get. No one is fired (low stakes). Erdely apparently had a long history of similarly poorly sourced stories (low consequences). The basic rules of the journalism road are straight forward and easily learned (independent of whether you choose to practice them.)

I think one of the issues we have today is that people from Low Octane environments (teaching, academia, journalism, etc.) spend a lot of time reporting on High Octane professions. They are essentially reporting on a foreign country because they do not understand the nature High Octane occupations. The world is simply seen differently and they don't realize it.

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