The country (and the world) is going to the dogs – capitalism works for the few, not the many – all these international meetings, and we never get anywhere – the gap between rich and poor nations continues to widen…. (gloom, doom, ect) – right? Wrong!
Not for the first (and not last hem hem) time, the inspiration (? – oh all right then, idea – Ed) for this week’s Serious Bit comes from (Lord) Danny Finkelstein, whose Wednesday column in the Times is a must-read.
Lord F’s article this week was about Dr Hans Rosling, a thoughtful and interesting man, with the tiresome habit of looking at facts rather than opinions. Dr R was Professor of International Health at the Karolinska Institute (in Stockholm), and shortly before his death (last year) wrote a book, Factfulness, that summarised the lessons he had learnt dealing with health epidemics and data. Published this month, it is an assault on both ignorance and pessimism.
Dr R was not only unconventional (he was a trained sword-swallower), but had a knack for advancing an argument in a vivid way. He pointed out that (from an economic and social point of view) when his grandmother was born (in 1863) Sweden was on a par with Afghanistan today – by 1921 it was like Lesotho today – and when he himself was born (in 1948) it was like Egypt today. In other words, because of economic growth, countries get richer, healthier, better educated, more liberal, and more equal – but because this happens gradually, and because we’re hard-wired always to pay attention first to the bad news, we don’t notice – and when asked about various statistics, we’re always pessimistic (and often wildly so).
Consider – the average guess (by people in Dr R’s surveys) was that 59% of us live in low-income countries. The real figure is 9%.
In 1800, 85% of people lived on less than $2 a day (in today’s money); in 1966 it was 50%; in 1997 29%, and now it’s 9%.
All this gives plenty of lessons for us businesspersons, methinks, including, for starters —
1) progress happens only because enough people care enough to make it happen. As Bill Gates said this week, “the only reason things have improved is because people get upset about things and decide to do something about it” – and he gives at least half his wealth (presently $92billion) to charity and scientific research
2) it pays to look at the facts, rather than have opinions (and, worse, take decisions) on hearsay and received wisdom
3) (fortunately) the facts show that optimism is a far more productive strategy than pessimism
Do you care enough about the state of your business to change it? And how do you check that the assumptions (and decisions) you make are based on fact rather than hearsay and/or received wisdom? Well, how would it be if you had access to advice and challenge (every month) from seven other business owners, who have no axe to grind? If that sounds attractive, you know where to come!
Enough already — time to smile (and occasionally weep) at some of the trivia this week —
• you will of course (hem hem) remember that it was Walter Pater (who he? – Ed) who said (about the Mona Lisa) “she is older than the rocks on which she sits”. The boffins have given us plenty of information (useful or not) about the past this week….
• …. a scattering of diamonds discovered in a meteorite that landed in the Nubian desert ten years ago “points to the existence of a lost planet that used to wander the early Solar System”, according to M Philippe Gillet at the École Polytechnique in Lausanne (perhaps the planet was called Zsa Zsa Gabor? Or then again, perhaps not)….
• …. Dr Clayton Magill (from Heriot Watt Uni) reckons that early man liked a diet of termites….
• …. and two boffins from the Uni of Rochester (in New York) think that the Silurians (a race of lizard men in Doctor Who) may not be as far-fetched as one might think (maybe they ate termites?) – if there had been an industrial civilization before us, would we really know? (answer – probably Yes – Cynical Ed, but hey, never get in the way of an academic in search of a grant)….
• …. another survey (of 300,000 “people of European descent”) reckons that our genes mean that women are three times as likely as men to have blonde hair. Perhaps gentlemen really do prefer blondes? (only some of them — Cautious Ed – or maybe some of the ladies in the survey lied about their hair colour (Cynical Ed))….
• …. and liar dice are clearly not a new phenomenon – archaeologists have discovered a set of dice in Bergen, dating back to the 1400’s – one of them has two 5’s and two 4’s
• answering the questions on University Challenge is rather harder when you’re actually taking part than when you’re slumped in an armchair in front of the telly (or so I’m told – Ed), but it gets a bit easier if Paxo gives you the answer rather than the question. During the recording of one of the semifinals, the great man asked “and finally, name the composer of this piece by Aaron Copla…. Oh ****”. Disappointingly, this was edited out and another question substituted
• boffins at Oxford are going to try to rewire the brains of people with anxiety syndrome by showing them pictures of people smiling (maybe they should try the Mona Lisa?)
• the IMO (International Maritime Organization) has set global emission targets for ships, leading to research by shipping companies into “fuel-saving measures” – like “giant kites flown from the bow” (aka sails — who knew??)
• the Lake District is introducing its own currency (to try to encourage people to spend money locally – unless the Ed’s attention has wandered and there’s been a Lexit?). The notes will feature Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth, and Alfred Wainwright
• trainee lawyers are being warned that wearing short skirts will cost them several marks (I think it’s the female trainees they’re concerned about – but in this day and age who knows? Harrumph – Ed)….
• …. while Dr Tania Reynolds (of Florida State Uni) has discovered (?) that gossip “might be an evolved weapon in the female armoury” (again, who knew??)
• the Ed is now thoroughly confused – after loads-a research warning that too much coffee causes an irregular heartbeat, boffins in Oz now say that an intake of up to four cups a day is likely to curb the risk of abnormal rhythm, for most of us at least (make up your mind, chaps)
• and finally, in techie news –
• …. York City Council is to start a trial to use beacons which will pick up mobile phone signals (even when you’re not using the phone, thankfully) to control traffic flows…..
• …. and Apple are trying to brush up Siri’s repertoire of jokes. If you say “Siri, tell me a joke” you will now get humdingers like “Q – what’s the difference between roast beef and pea soup? A – anyone can roast beef”. Maybe more research is needed – although the competition seems no better (sample from Alexa – “’Excuse me, waiter, this coffee tastes like mud!’ ‘Yes sir, it’s fresh ground’”)
On to Columbo Corner, and two traffic-related stories (sort of).
1) this week’s Irritable Pedant Award goes to the Times subbie who produced the headline Bike Stolen Every Six Minutes (the owner must be royally p*ssed off by now – though at least the scallies seem to return it quickly) ….
2) …. and the week’s D’ohhh! Award goes to Mr George Mee (20), who appears to be a trainee thief. He drove his Volkswagen to a house in Deal (in Kent) with a friend (who had a knife) and knocked on the door. A scuffle between the householder (a student called Daniel Robinson) and the knifeman ensued, and the latter ran off. During the struggle, Mr M had entered the house, but left empty-handed. Neighbours intervened, but let him go once they’d photographed his car – which unfortunately had a personalised number plate (GM05 MEE). He was given an 18-month community order by Canterbury Crown Court, and told by the judge (who clearly has a sense of humour) to “go on a course in bettering his thinking skills”. His parents have taken away his numberplates….
Have a great weekend – enjoy the sunshine, and if you’re studying for the law, keep that hemline below the knee….
Cheers for now
I presently run three Boards –
Dark Blue (for people who run large businesses) – one spare seat
Light Blue (for people who run large businesses) — two spare seats
White Board (for people who run fast-growing businesses) — two spare seats
“Fame is easy to acquire – impact is more difficult” (Hans Rosling)
“I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back” (Zsa Zsa Gabor)
“I’m a marvellous housekeeper – every time I leave a man I keep his house” (Zsa Zsa Gabor)
“If God had wanted us to bend over he’d’ve put diamonds on the floor” (Joan Rivers)
“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out ‘til too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along” (Terry Pratchett)
“The early bird gets the worm, but it’s the second mouse who gets the cheese” (Jeremy Paxman)
“A real Christian is someone who can give his pet parrot to the town gossip” (Billy Graham)
By Tom Morton – TAB Harrogate