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The Danger Of Ineffective Thinking (Or How Not To Be Wrong)

build your brilliant business dino tartaglia the workroom Nov 16, 2020

By Dino Tartaglia

Imagine, if you will, that we’re at war and that you’re the person assigned to sort a very specific problem out. In fact, being a wartime problem, the decisions you make will quite literally mean life or death for many people.  

The problem is this: For every 100 fighter planes that leave their base, only 70 are coming home and the loss of 30 planes and crew is an unacceptable loss. The task you’ve been given is to reduce this loss and ensure that many more of our planes come back intact. The top brass has determined that the issue is one of reinforcement: the planes need bullet proofing, which means more armour, more protection. But, here’s your dilemma: too little and it might be ineffective - meaning the plane still gets shot down, or too much and the plane will be too heavy to fly – making it not as agile in a battle.

So, where do you place the additional protection? All of your engineers, the general who insists on poking his nose into this, and your own instincts, are all saying that the protection should be added where the bullet holes are.


We have an expression in Success Engineers; ‘The Elusive Obvious’. This is the thing that’s hiding in plain sight - the underlying problem, the solution, the answer to your question that’s ‘obvious’, but only once it’s been pointed out, or you’ve been led to see it. ‘The Elusive Obvious’ is that thing that can be a source of real irritation when you share it with a client or prospect who then immediately devalues it by saying ‘Well, I already knew that’. Yup, we’ve all had those clients, and those learning experiences

But you also have to be aware of ‘The Immediately Obvious’. Here’s the thing: We’re drawn to the immediate, quickfire, oven-ready solution. That instant gratification of finding a ‘fix’ gives us a feeling of movement, of progress, when we may have felt stuck. In fact, in his book, The Marshmallow Effect, Walter Mischel alluded to why this is, leading us to coin the term ‘microwave mindset’, one of what we call ‘The 5 Fatal Mistakes’ that threaten the success journey of every entrepreneur or business owner.

In our coaching environment, Success Unlocked, we tackle the danger of being seduced by ‘The Immediately Obvious’, by the first thought or idea that you have, especially when it’s echoed or validated by other voices, such as in this wartime example. So, when you see the bullet holes in these planes and hear your scientists saying that this is exactly where the armour should go, you leap from analysis to action to solution. Because it sounds logical and ‘obvious’, right?

Except…that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.


In truth, my guess is that most of us would be drawn to doing the same thing. But it really isn’t the solution. In his excellent book, Black Box Thinking, where this real-life challenge was drawn from, Matthew Syed explains:

“Before the planes were modified, Abraham Wald, a Hungarian-Jewish statistician reviewed the data. Wald, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria and worked with other academics to help the war effort, pointed out a critical flaw in the analysis: the command had only looked at airplanes which had returned.”

So, in your situation, facing your version of this challenge, what would you do? You’d armour-up key points where the bullet holes are NOT, like the cockpit and the engine bay.

Why? Because the planes that made it back tell you what NOT to do. Every single one of those bullet holes did NOT stop those planes and crew from getting home. The analysis of your engineers into the pattern of concentration of bullet holes counts for naught. Even if the fuselages of these planes resembled swiss cheese, these planes made it home.

So, the answer to your problem lies with the planes that were not so fortunate. The clues come from those who didn't survive, because not surviving (ruin) is what we're trying to avoid. Which means that, in the absence of being able to see the planes that were shot down, where the holes are NOT in those that survived, is where your most likely solution lies. Knowing that this was a real problem and a real solution, the question is, why did everyone miss it?

Because they went straight to assumptions and presumptions, and thus to inaccurate, ineffective thinking. Which is exactly what we see on a daily business with pretty much every business owner or entrepreneur (and we’re not totally free of this, in case you were wondering - my business partner Simon and I ‘vet’ each other and have others whom we go to for outside perspectives). In fact, it’s highly likely that the scientists and analysts in the original story subconsciously worked on the presumption that the planes that made it back were a random sample, which would add weight to the original thinking as to the right approach.


But this wasn't a random sample; it was survivors. This kind of Survivorship Bias rears its ugly little head in all domains. We look at the survivors trying to figure out how to get stronger, how to improve, how to get better. We focus on the success stories and think that their ‘playbook’ is what we need.

In our own businesses, we amalgamate the data and run a bunch of numbers to try and figure out how to make better decisions. If you want to do the things that work for the long haul, don't just copy the successes you see around you; understand why the failures aren't still in the game. Don't fall prey to Survivorship Bias (also called Survivor Bias). We ignore the non-survivors at our peril - business owners who didn’t survive are the ones that hold the key to ruin and thus how to avoid it.

Here’s another way to think about it… 

You’ve never invested or played the stock market before, but you get an offer to be mentored by a trader who claims to have a wildly successful system. He even offers to openly share all of his students’ successes and invites you to pick any of them to chat to. Sounds compelling, right? But what’s really happened here is that his ‘system’ is to look at all existing stocks' performance over time and take a view based on the successful stocks, which is what he’s been teaching for a couple of years. Critically, if you ignore all of the stocks that no longer exist, any success you might have is almost entirely by chance. 

Why? Because the deaths of the other companies (and their stocks) were a key part of the market’s overall performance. In order to understand why the winner’s win, we must also look at why the losers lose.


Focusing on just the ‘survivors’, the successes, ‘The Immediately Obvious’, the appealing, the ‘oven- ready’ solution, can set us up for ruin. It reinforces all of the wrong things and leaves the most important things languishing in a dark corner, utterly neglected. What you DON’T see here in this fictional example amongst the 50 or so success stories this trading ‘guru’ has, are the 700+ students who got cleaned out following his system.

However, this example isn’t so ridiculous as every day in the online market, in particular, people continue to fall into this trap. I wrote about this in a mini-series of ‘rants’ a year or so ago, when addressing the coaches who sell their blueprint for success. You see the social proof for those who 'made it', but what you DON'T see, ever, are the stories of the ones who didn't - the non-survivors. And it's those stories that provide the clues to staying in the game, to avoiding burnout, cash-out and, eventually, ruin.

Because, if you want to achieve long-term, sustainable success in building a joyful, dependable business around being brilliant at what you do, Rule #1 is: 'Stay in the game'.

If you don't survive, everything else is moot. And if you keep doing more of the wrong things than the right things in your business, ultimately, you won’t survive. To ensure that you avoid these pitfalls and take better, safer steps towards What Matters Most, come join us in Success Unlocked, our free Business Owners Coaching Environment. 

Click here or on the FB Group link below.


Dino Tartaglia is a former Electronics Engineer, now a businessman, mentor, coach and troubleshooter working to help you, if you’re a coach, consultant, creative or service provider, to Build a Joyful, Dependable Business around Being Brilliant at What You Do. 

In his own coaching, and together with world-class coach Simon Hartley, the other half of Success Engineers (their joint business), he helps you to improve your thinking to ask better questions, so that you solve the right problems in your business at the right time, develop your own personal performance as a business owner and get closer to What Matters Most. 

So fire up your engines ladies, we're heading straight to the top! 

You can find Dino in our FB Group , on his  website or on any of these other locations; Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitter | Instagram |PodCast - Back Bedroom to Big Business

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