Attributing success

This morning there was an interesting idea tweeted by author Ian Leslie about how to make a distinction between what is a game of skill and what is a game of chance or luck:

It got me thinking. It got me thinking specifically about the deterministic role that people and organisations have on the world around them. And in particular, the way in which many people will seem to take responsibility for events outside their control that turn out well, and then have difficulty when things turn sour.

For example, whilst at Microsoft, one of the long list of KPIs that my team was responsible for was the twice-annual customer satisfaction score that came from regular client surveys. Based I believe around the concept of Net Promoter Score, we had to try to hit a metric over which our actions as a team had no direct impact (the survey was of around 300 people out of an overall audience of over 1.2 million).

When we hit the score I urged caution when others wanted to sing about best practices and great ideas. Unfortunately my caution wasn’t heeded and so when the next half-year review trundled into sight, and the metric was 3 percentage points into the red… (the fact the survey was +/-5% accuracy was lost in translation too).

Or for example how the last Labour Government was of course very willing to assume responsibility through its actions for the economic good times since the 1990s, which meant that they find it very difficult to shirk being blamed for what ultimately appear to be very global economic cycles.

So in that context, Ian’s idea for the judgement of a game of skill or a game of chance can be extrapolated. If someone is claiming that they have delivered something or achieved something, ask the question – could they have, if so wanted, achieved the negative equivalent?

So, for example, football players could reasonably easily achieve a loss without trying very hard. I should know, I’m a Watford fan.

For example, it would be very difficult indeed for me to guarantee that I would lose in a game of Snakes and Ladders.

So, next time a businessman or politician claims some great achievement, ask yourself this question. What would they have to have done to screw things up? What actions would they have needed to perform to “achieve” the exact opposite. And if you find it difficult to articulate, ask yourself what real control did they have to deserve the accolades?

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