Tuesday 5 November 2019

ARTICLE 9 - Part 1: Understanding the Numbers

Human brains have great difficulty understanding very large numbers. Rather than bore you with the details, allow me to share an example:

52 Factorial

If you’re not a math whiz, then you may not know what the symbol “!” means in Mathematics. Here’s a quick explanation: The number that precedes the ! symbol is the number than is multiplied by itself and descending order until it reaches the number 1. Here are a few examples:

3! = 3 x 2 x 1 = 6
4! = 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24
5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120
6! = 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 720

…and so on.

As you can see, the number spikes tremendously with each integer. 15! already jumps to the trillions. As we continue to increase the number, the ridiculousness of just how large a number happens becomes ever the more ridiculous.

How ridiculous?

Would you believe me if I told you that every time you shuffle a deck of cards, it is the first time in human history for it to be shuffled that way? The first time in human history!

Take a moment to appreciate the meaning behind this. Even if you were a blackjack dealer in a casino (that only used one deck at a time - many casinos use more than one deck to make it more difficult to count cards), you would never shuffle the deck the same way twice. No one ever has! That’s how big the number 52! is.

For really cool analogies, including a walking around the Earth’s equator one step every billion years, check out the following link:

52 Factorial

7.7 Billion People (Global Population As of November, 2019)

We’ve discussed the need for Effective Communication at some length already. This becomes even more important when you consider how many people there are on the globe. Let’s use the example of the Viable Underdogs Book and Podcast to put this population into perspective.

Let’s pretend that the book and podcast is not a recording. It is merely a sales pitch I give live and in person. So, one person at a time, I deliver my Viable Underdogs Sales Pitch to try and save our stoopid planet. The book and podcast can likely be listened to and read in approximately 12 hours (that number is likely incorrect, but it will make my math number easier). If I were to deliver my message one person at a time in person at 12 hours a shot, would you care to take a shot how long it would take?

It would take me roughly 10.5 million years.

Okay. But even without technology, I could present this pitch to auditoriums filled woth people. Let’s assume a capacity of 100,000 people. Surely this would make the message easily deliverable in a reasonable amount of time right? Like, we could easily avoid disaster in this scenario, correct?

Sure. If we had just over 100 years to spare. But we don’t. The pessimistic estimates provide us about 10 years to enact realistic change. If we kicked up the stadium capacity to 1 million people, at 12 hours a shot, it would take a little over 10 years for me to effectively communicate my message, and this assumes I never stop to sleep, rest, eat, or write further books.

The Reality

Luckily, I have technology at my disposal. Anyone can listen to the Podcast whenever they want. However, the problem lies in the fact that the Podcast (or Change Message or Crisis Message) need to engage a critical mass of people within a very short time span for it to work.

If we use the 2.5% number of the Innovators in the Rogers Adoption Curve, then globally, the number of people that would need to hear the Podcast is about 190 million people. Ideally, this would occur by the end of the year 2020. This means that about half a million people per day would need to listen to it.
I never said this idea wasn’t a Hail-Mary, but it does not change the fact that it is still within the realm of possibility. It’s just that nothing like this has ever been attempted before, but viral videos have hit even more impressive numbers in the recent past. 2012’s “Gagnam Style” amassed over a billion views in less than 6 months and 2017’s “Despacito” tied that number in just 97 days, and has since gone onto more than 6 billion views, and neither are anywhere near as entertaining and educational as my humble podcast. ;)

Statistics & The Wisdom of Groups

There is a somewhat famous experiment by Jack Treynor (in 1987) that involved a jar of jelly beans. People are asked to guess the amount of jelly beans within the jar, and no matter how wild the estimates were, the more people asked, the more accurate the average of the actual amount of jelly beans contained in the jar. This experiment has been reproduced many times with very similar results. The average is often a few percentage points away from the actual number, which is quite impressive given what the task entails.

This type of group decision-making is present in countless things humans engage in, from politics and economics, to products and services purchased, viewing content watched etc. It’s not to say that groups always make the best decisions, but it is hard to argues that there is often a wisdom to group decision making. This is the reason why we always stress defaulting to the opinions of a collective field of experts rather than focusing on the opinions of select individuals. Particularly when it comes to established scientific principles and concepts.

As stated in the Viable Underdogs book and podcast, a tiny minority of scientists can lengthen a scientific debate to last years or even entire decades. This is what occurred on the subject of Lead during the 20th century, tobacco smoking (Source), and even the current sustainability crisis.

Pareto’s Principal (Taken from the book: Uncage Human Ingenuity)

Chances are, even if you are unfamiliar with the name, Pareto, you’re heard it used before.

80% of the world’s resources are used by 20% of its population.
20% of a business’ customers make up 80% of its sales.

This is also present in the field of sustainability. Here is an example of a report on emissions, sometimes used by those who attempt to shift blame on sustainability.

The report, written by a non profit, CDP, breaks down the emissions these companies have been responsible for since 1988 (Riley, T., 2017). Written in 2017, it claims that 71% of the world’s emissions are caused by 100 companies. This illustrates Pareto’s Principal well, by showing an unequal distribution on the ownership of fossil fuels. What’s crazy is that 71% is quite close to the 80% used in the 80/20 rule. It’s not that nothing can be learned by reading and presenting a study like this. But we are all complicit in the purchase of these products, in some form or another. Fossil fuels are used to produce electricity, ship and produce food, and many of the goods we buy, just as a few examples.

The 80/20 rule, or Pareto’s Principal, was developed by Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, when he noticed things like land ownership are distributed unequally. Joseph Moses Juran, a management consultant, then applied this principle to many Management concepts.

Pareto’s Principal has no shortage of areas where it can be applied to if you want to do some additional research. For instance, we’re willing to bet that for many of you, 80% of the outfits you wear out probably come from 20% of your wardrobe. The principal doesn’t necessarily have to add up to 100% either. For some of you, its possible 20% of your wardrobe makes up 100% of the outfits worn.

Less than 100% Consensus from a Field

100% agreement in scientific fields is unlikely to happen (after all, there exists some on our planet that don’t believe the Earth is round). Also, as outlined in the Viable Underdogs book, “Uncage Human Ingenuity,” and Episode 29, other factors can encourage and bias some scientists do disagree with the accepted consensus within their field.

If we combine Pareto’s Principal with the wisdom of groups, then we can present a strategy to prevent unnecessary debates that occur in scientific fields. The overwhelming majority of the time, I’d be willing to wager that anytime consensus is over 80%, Pareto’s Rule, then consensus will eventually reach 100% given enough time. The problem stems from how long it takes for consensus to reach 100% from 80%.

It could be argued that anytime consensus surpasses the 80% mark, that to anyone outside of this field, it should be seen as 100& agreement or consensus

However, there are likely those who would be uncomfortable with that number. Maybe a higher number would be acceptable to them. It would likely require research to aggregate many scientific studies over the 20th century to see how often an 80% consensus did not eventually result in 100% consensus.

Until such a time as adequate research is undertaken to appease those who would initially scoff at this suggestion, it would make sense to equate 95% consensus to be the same as 100% consensus, so debates about adding a poison to our environment (see: lead), or debates about ongoing crises don’t rage on for years and decades after a consensus has already been reached…


(Some of the material here was included in Renegades of Disruption, and other points may become further expanded upon in future books).


The Code (2011 TV series)
Crash Course Statistics

Solving the Global Communication Crisis

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