Nick's Notes

Not Normal

As the late, great Douglas Adams said “The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”

Whenever the world seems a bit strange I remember that quote. Clive Tyldesley, the ITV football commentator, causes me to remember it frequently as I find he has a weird perspective, and even weirder way of articulating it. So as I was watching football on ITV the other night, whilst trying hard not to listen to him, amazingly England beat Colombia for a place in the quarter finals of the World Cup. Even more amazingly they did it by winning the penalty shoot-out.

It amazes me how many people don’t understand statistics. It is the first time that England have won on penalties at the World Cup. But that is totally uncorrelated to their ability to do so. It is 20 years since England won a knock out match in a major competition, but that doesn’t actually have an affect the game they are playing. I even read that England have only won 9% of the games televised by ITV, rather than 36% of the games televised by the BBC, as if that has any impact on anything.

A lot of people talk about “momentum” in sport, but there is no such thing. Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychologist, who came to speak to the CIO Connect audience a few years ago talked about athletes freezing, allowing their “inner chimp” who evolved to keep us safe in the jungle, to sow such seeds of doubt in the mind that the human couldn’t perform to their full potential. Thankfully, Harry Kane, who had to wait over 3 minutes from being awarded a penalty to actually kicking the ball had his chimp under control. Not only that but he also was completely unfazed by the Colombian team’s verbal “sledging”, and also trying to damage the ground around the penalty spot. That’s not normal; many of us would have let the pressure get to us.

But we surround ourselves with myths. We look for omens, and signs that all will be well. We will readily look to an octopus or a turtle who is believed to predict outcomes. We might even turn to astrology, or even religion. And in doing so we demonstrate that we are still very close to our ancestors living in the jungle who had little understanding of causality, correlation and coincidence.

Self-confidence, and self-belief are important. Occasionally we see or hear of someone do something remarkable. They may be inexperienced, perhaps naïve. Because they didn’t understand that they couldn’t do it they just went ahead anyway, and succeeded. A recent example is the 14 year old French boy who sailed single handed across the Channel. Despite losing time because he was exhausted and seasick he pushed on and achieved his goal. He is the youngest person to have achieved that in a verified sail.

Self-limiting language and self-limiting thoughts are all around us. Perhaps that is normal, that is statistically at the peak of a normal distribution curve where the mean is to be found. But the whole distribution curve exists and the peak can be shifted. A normal distribution curve is just a measure of current outcomes.

Don’t be normal. Resolve to do something extraordinary. Stick out from the crowd. Believe in yourself. Dare I say “think different”? Or as Adrian Gilpin said “If you knew you could not fail, what would you do then?”

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