“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

— Aldous Huxley

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact.”

— John Adams

“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”

— Isaac Newton

“Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”

— Mark Twain

“As a rule we disbelieve all the facts and theories for which we have no use.”

— William James

“A fact in itself is nothing. It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or for the proof which it furnishes.”

— Claude Bernard, Physiologist

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

— Daniel Patrick Moynihan

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Once upon a time, as they say, facts were truths because they could be proven by generally-accepted evidence of some kind. Facts without proof or evidence are beliefs, opinions, views, or theories.

A fact is a statement that can be verified. It can be proven to be true or false through objective, credible evidence. “Objective” and “credible” are the tricky parts, however.

Reality, whatever it may actually be at the moment, should be describable by a set of relevant facts or truths. Otherwise, its description is, operationally, just a potentially-unreliable hypothesis, belief, opinion, or view.

Figuring out what “reality” really is at any point in time is therefore a major challenge. Reality is what we operate in every day, whether we can reliably describe it or not. Most of us, it seems, live in a personal reality that is largely based on our beliefs and opinions rather than evidence-based facts or truths.

Managing a business or other organization generally requires a fairly firm grip on the nature of its governing reality. This effective reality, whatever it may actually be down deep, is what controls situations, events, and outcomes that we experience.

Our current COVID-driven “reality” is what we are operating in, like it or not. It may be “real” – fact-based – or it may be “unreal” – opinion- or policy-based. Our current effective reality may in fact be largely unreal, but does this matter?

Sure matters if you are a leader or manager.

Facts may be true in reality but irrelevant in practice

Fact-based reality, assuming that such a critter even exists, may be far-distant from whatever it is that is driving our world today. Instead, we seem to have a smorgasbord of “facts” from which to choose. Some of these clearly contradict others. How should we select the right set of facts for our own use?

Clearly, facts (truths) are well-hidden in many cases. They may even be undiscoverable as a practical matter. It may well be a complete waste of time to try. Maybe better simply to choose a set of “facts” that may, we hope, work best for our purposes.

That seems to be how things are going today.

Everybody has their own set of “facts” and proceeds as if they reflect some underlying fact-based reality. Whether or not they do we will probably never know – at least until the underlying reality comes back to bite us, posterior-wise.

What happens is in fact a reality-tester

Our actions each day reflect our often-implicit understanding of the reality that is operational in our world. We typically can’t clearly describe this reality fully but we have to act as if we could. Not-acting is rarely an option.

So we act and see what happens.

What happens tells us something about how our own local real-reality functions. We act based on some combination of implicit and explicit assumptions about this “reality”. Outcomes give us information about our effective reality – but only if we are looking for such information.

If we act in a series of small low-risk steps, avoiding any bet-the-farm initiatives, we can use step outcomes to tell us a lot about our working reality, whatever it may be.

We don’t even have to know specifically and in detail about the underlying reality so long as we can identify and understand how that reality works in our world.

This approach will be effective if outcomes are reasonably prompt. It does not do so well where outcomes are significantly delayed. We need a regular flow of outcome feedback to guide our next actions.

Learning by doing

This suggestion appears in many of my past posts, as for example here. When our local world is fast-changing, largely unpredictable, and black-swan prone, long term plans and associated actions are nearly always an invitation to disaster.

Probing the world in small steps and then immediately analyzing the outcomes for useful information seems to be the only risk-minimizing way forward.

Finding out simply that “this-works-but-that-doesn’t” often misses the real opportunity and value here. The truly important information is why.

The “why” is a description of some aspect of an underlying, operating reality. This reality may be highly unreal if looked at from afar but it may well be the only reality that matters for us in practice.

For example, is COVID real or unreal? For most of us, it doesn’t matter. The world right now is operating as if COVID is real. Our world. That makes COVID real for us, at least for the moment. The facts that we need to know and understand are about how that maybe-unreal-reality actually functions.

These are, contrary to quotes from the wise, our very own facts. We can and must have our very own facts but these have to be derived from action-outcome analysis. We should not adopt facts generated by others unless these come with very strong evidence of validity – for us. Theories, opinions, beliefs, and policies do not qualify without our own validation in some way.

Action plans when executed are experiments

Experiments are exercises in learning. In past, businesses typically experimented with pilots, prototypes, research, and the like. R&D kinds of activities. Today, many of our mainstream business activities are in fact experiments whether we regard them as such or not.

The world, or whatever is going on out there, is making many activities outcome-uncertain. They are in fact experiments but we may decide to avoid learning from them except in very narrow ways. Not wise.

The right approach today is to regard much of what we do as learning opportunities. This is a very different way of managing. Rolling-the-dice may be a good analogy.

Learning about reality by rolling the dice

Dice are simple and well understood when at rest. It is the acting – rolling – that makes things interesting. Possible outcomes are known but actual outcomes depend, well, on the local reality. Are the dice biased or loaded in some way? Is the table tilted or irregular? Does who rolls matter? The reality here may be unavailable until we have rolled the dice a number of times and done outcome analysis at each turn.

Of course, you can just roll the dice and live with whatever happens. If you are a happy gambler. If not, you can roll the dice based on some assumptions about what should happen and then compare outcomes with assumptions. This is a learning approach to management in these volatile times.

COVID, real or unreal in fact, is very real in practice for most of us

Sorry for using the COVID analogy yet again but it offers a strong example. The world, or at least much of it, today operates as if COVID is real. This means that our business and organizational activities need to reflect this operating reality.

Does it matter that there is growing evidence, some even credible, of a different reality? For purposes of leadership and managing, it mostly does not. At least not right now.

A more important question here is whether this reality or unreality is changing, and if so, how. We need to be ahead of whatever may be evolving.

COVID-driven practices today are many and major. How might we determine when the driving “facts” are no longer effective or in play, and something quite different is emerging?

My thought would be to seek evidence of early changes in behavior of the players who are driving things. Such as the emergence of a new reality, if you will. How are your customers changing their behavior in this respect? How are your suppliers adapting to their changing marketplace inputs? And many similar key questions.

This is research – experimentation – but only if you build the necessary testing and analysis mechanics into your action plans and agile practices. Otherwise, you may miss the early signs of major changes in your reality and instead get whacked by these changes as they take hold in their full impact.

Dealing with scary unreal-reality

We are, like it or not, often emotional and fearful creatures. This nature is very hard to ignore when looking out at the world and deciding on actions. A lot of what we see will be scary. Fear-driven decisions can be very unwise and damaging.

If the reality we see is scary, we may opt to deal instead with a manufactured but less-scary alternative reality. Even though it may be unreal in all likelihood, we will make it our operational reality simply to make acting easier and less-stressful.

That’s just the way us human critters often work. We simply deny a possible real-reality and instead create and pursue a less-real but less-scary unreal-reality.

Outcomes may well teach us about the unseen or unrecognized real-reality the hard way but that is life in so many cases. Learning the hard way is a very popular management practice.

Cryptocurrency or digital money seems scary

The efforts by some to end paper money and move toward a national cryptocurrency took a major step recently (early 2021) when the House Financial Services Committee task force expressed support for experiments to create a digital cryptocurrency version of the U.S. dollar.

Do you know how this, if it happens, will affect your business or organization?

You may observe that everything today is digital currency, or store of value, except hard assets like gold. Even if digital currency is objectively unreal, it is getting real enough for a great many. Are you active today in digital currency transactions so as to be learning in detail about the mechanics, risks, and best practices in case this becomes effectively real?

There are a great many more examples of how greatly and quickly change is presently creating our various new realities (“new normal”). Next post deals with some of these.

Reality bites

Really. This impact – i.e., bites – is how you identify and understand your reality. Reality impacts and hurts. Sometimes the impacts of reality are good but they are always felt strongly. Your actions and your reality’s responses provide the means to understand your reality operationally.

You can call this reality whatever you like but the most important thing is to understand how it operates and what it may be up to next. If you can’t feel it, it probably isn’t real for you.

Because impacts are different for each of us and our organizations, our realities are also different. Operationally. Your reality is mostly not real for me; my reality is probably not real for you. So much for any real-reality.

Bottom line:

Facts were once thought to define reality. Only one reality is real, with only one set of real facts. But no more. New realities pop up regularly, each with its own set of facts. Facts are now fungible and personal. Your choice. But this presents a serious problem for those of us who must manage real businesses and organizations: Which reality should we use and what is real about it? My answer is agile practices and processes with regular, routine analyses of outcomes that help build an understanding of your own, effective, current reality.

Daily Mail reported via MSN News that “Student’s cryptocurrency investment explodes to over $1trillion” as yet another example of why cryptocurrencies are a bit scary and of questionable reality:

“A nursing student in Georgia woke up to find the $20 he invested in the cryptocurrency Rocket Bunny exploded in value to over $1trillion due to a glitch in the Coinbase app – but sadly he won’t be able to cash in. Chris Williamson shared his stunning story last week after he checked his investment on Tuesday morning and saw that it had ballooned to $1,189,313,417,915.16.”  

“’I woke up, it’s like 9am and I always check my phone to check how my crypto to see how it’s doing and I’m just like, ‘Naw, I’m sleeping,’ Williamson told FOX 5. ‘I look at it again and I’m like… at that point I fall out of my bed, literally.’ Unfortunately when Williamson attempted to move the newly-found crypto fortune into another digital wallet, it showed a much lower price. Coinbase later confirmed that his balance was shown in error and will be corrected.”

Basic Knowledge BK101 has a lengthy piece on “Reality” as they see it:

Consensus Reality is generally agreed to be reality, based on a consensus view. The appeal to consensus arises from the fact that humans do not fully understand or agree upon the nature of knowledge or ontology, often making it uncertain what is real, given the vast inconsistencies between individual subjectivities. We can, however, seek to obtain some form of consensus, with others, of what is real. We can use this consensus as a pragmatic guide, either on the assumption that it seems to approximate some kind of valid reality, or simply because it is more “practical” than perceived alternatives. Consensus reality therefore refers to the agreed-upon concepts of reality which people in the world, or a culture or group, believe are real (or treat as real), usually based upon their common experiences as they believe them to be; anyone who does not agree with these is sometimes stated to be ‘in effect… living in a different world.’ Throughout history this has also raised a social question as to the effects of a society in which all individuals do not agree upon the same reality. Children have sometimes been described or viewed as ‘inexperience[d] with consensus reality,’ though are described as such with the expectation that their perspective will progressively form closer to the consensus reality of their society as they age.”

Psychology Today offers a view on reality as scientists see things: “What Is Reality? The shift from illusion to reality.”:

“Seeing means seeing what is real, what’s true, what the truth is, and what reality is. Almost everyone would likely say that ‘truth,’ or ‘reality,’ is relative and subjective, and they would be correct in the sense that everyone’s ‘truth,’ ‘reality,’ or ‘world’ does come from within, from his or her own mind, which is then projected unto the outside, which he or she then observes.”

“David Bohm, one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century, said, ‘Thought creates the world and then says, ‘I didn’t do it.’ In other words, we have our attack thoughts, we project them on the outside, we inevitably live their effects, and say, ‘Why me?’ ‘It’s all their fault.’ ‘If only this, or that, or if only they were different.’ So, yes, we each live our own ‘truth,’ our own ‘world,’ and our own ‘reality.’ However, it is ‘truth’ with a lowercase ‘t,’ it is ‘world’ with a lowercase ‘w,’ and it is ‘reality’ with a lowercase ‘r.’ Each one of them is the product of our mind being operated from a foundation of illusion. It is a foundation of illusion because our mind draws from our ordinary or normal blueprint which consists of our genetic make-up, our experiences/environment, and is coupled with our epigenetics. Our ordinary or normal blueprint is based on the past, which, as Einstein says, is a ‘stubbornly persistent illusion.’ This means that each time our brain is using our ordinary or normal blueprint as its foundation, it will be operating from a basis of illusion, and our ‘world,’ our ‘reality,’ and our ‘truth,’ will be but an illusion.”