One of the critical mistakes you can make when making analytics-based decisions is mistaking the unfamiliar with the improbable. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Nate Silver influenced my understanding of how to incorporate uncertainty into your LTV calculation, Silver also did a great job of showing that we must consider contingencies we may not even have thought of. There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously.
There is a medical condition called “anosognosia,” in which a person who suffers a certain disability seems unaware of the existence of the disability. When a possibility is unfamiliar, we do not even think about it. Instead we develop a sort of mind-blindness to it. The relevant version of this syndrome for professionals in the game industry requires us to do one of the things that goes most against our nature: Admit what we do not know.
In his book, Silver used the attack at Pearl Harbor as a prime example of anosognosia within the US government. He outlined the myriad reasons why the Japanese attack had been such a surprise to our military and intelligence officers. Worse than being unprepared, we had mistaken our ignorance for knowledge and made ourselves more vulnerable as a result. In advance of Pearl Harbor we had a theory that sabotage was the most likely means by which our planes and ships would be attacked. We stacked our planes wingtip to wingtip, and our ships stern to bow, on the theory that it would be easier to monitor one big target than several smaller ones. Meanwhile we theorized that if Japan seemed to be mobilizing for an attack, it would be against Russia or perhaps against the Asian territorial possessions of the United Kingdom since Russia and the UK were already involved in the war. We had not seen the conflict through Japan’s eyes. Continue reading “Do not mistake the unfamiliar for the improbable”