As Mark previously posted
author Malcolm Gladwell has a long essay in this week's New Yorker that he calls a "semi-defense" of Enron. As expected, the piece has generated quite a bit of discussion
about how much Enron's directors actually did wrong. But what I found most interesting in the piece is Gladwell's riff on the different between puzzles and mysteries. My Institute for the Future
colleague Alex Pang
points out that the distinction is very relevant to the forecasting work that we do. By definition, the future is uncertain and mysterious. As Gladwell writes, "Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty." From the New Yorker:
The national-security expert Gregory Treverton has famously made a distinction between puzzles and mysteries. Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information. The key to the puzzle will probably come from someone close to bin Laden, and until we can find that source bin Laden will remain at large.
The problem of what would happen in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein was, by contrast, a mystery. It wasn’t a question that had a simple, factual answer. Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much. The C.I.A. had a position on what a post-invasion Iraq would look like, and so did the Pentagon and the State Department and Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and any number of political scientists and journalists and think-tank fellows. For that matter, so did every cabdriver in Baghdad.
The distinction is not trivial...
If things go wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy: it’s the person who withheld information. Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t.
Previously on BB:
• Malcolm Gladwell's "semi-defense" for Enron in New Yorker Link
• Malcolm Gladwell talks about why opinions are often useless Link
• Malcolm Gladwell profiled in scientific journal Link
• Enron coverage on BB Link
This gadget does exactly as promised: it looks like a thumbdrive (sort of) and fries the circuitry of any computer it’s plugged into. It’s made from camera flash parts, is charged with a standard AA battery, and delivers a 300V zap of DC destruction to the port for all your USB-murdering needs. Note that this […]
The Cobham catalog, exposed by The Intercept, features countless pages of surveillance gadgets sold to U.S. police to spy on American citizens: tiny black boxes with a big interest in you. In the creepily bland feature lists and nerdy product names is a whisper of a dark future; perhaps darker than anyone can imagine.
This image depicts the most commonly-found stylesheet colors on the web’s top sites—Paul Hebert did an amazing amount of analysis and this is just one of the intriguing visualizations he came up with. Most of these are obvious staples, especially HTML red and blue, though it’s interesting how far the blue “cluster” is from the […]
Unlike traditional lighters, the SaberLight features an electronic plasma beam that’s both rechargeable and butane-free. This sleek lighter is even approved by TSA, so you’ll never be stuck buying lighters you’ll just have to throw away partially used. For some people, like me, this is a pretty big game-changer. The SaberLight’s beam is actually both hotter and cleaner […]
Holiday shopping is in full swing, and the Striiv Touch is one of the best gift ideas I’ve landed on. Its simple design works for females and males, and its wide range of features makes it suitable for even the non-fitness enthusiasts in your life.Unlike traditional fitness trackers, the Striiv Touch also acts as a smartwatch. It […]
The Pocket Tripod PRO had massive Kickstarter success in 2013, raising almost $85,000 in a single month. But this isn’t just another case of pre-release product hype. This ingenious little device folds out from a credit-card-shaped plastic slab into a sturdy stand with a surprisingly wide range of motion. In portrait orientation, your phone slides […]