When knowledge is a hindrance, you need to think binary

The geographic industry is going through interesting times. The same is true for the media & information industry. Where I work those two worlds cross over, so the trends are amplified. Whatever it is, you know what I’m talking about. You might call it the web revolution, the Google effect, Moore’s Law, or something else. Or just blame it on teenagers.

The result is that everyone in the industry is scratching their heads. New players are trying to find profitable ways of establishing themselves on the back of this new wave, and established players are figuring out how to respond to both the threats and opportunities of this new world. And that is exactly the problem. Scratching their heads, that is. Too much knowledge to consider. Experience gets in the way.

Last week I attended a scientific climate conference which illustrated this point nicely. It was a great event which provided many great insights. But it also reminded me of that fact that knowledge is inversely proportional to certainty. Some of the scientists at the conference were clearly excellent at analysing data, but not very good at presenting it. Because scientists have to be detailed and precise, they often lose the big message. It almost felt like they wouldn’t even be able to tell their spouses “I love you” without attaching some kind of probabilistic measure to it.

I’ve never tried to tell my wife that I love her with 93.7% of my heart (plus-minus 5.5% sigma), and I’m not sure I would live to tell the tale. And so it is with most people – they don’t think like scientists, geo-professionals or similar mutated species. Instead, people think binary. Something either is, or isn’t. The door is either open or closed. It is either day or night. This blog post is either boring or interesting. It is not 56% relevant or whatever some automated search engine might tell you. A search engine is not human – point made.

And so it is with all things Geo. You might think that people will find it awesome that their GPS is accurate to 10m but they don’t. The same is true with many other geo-products that we think are cool. That’s because to the average person, things either exist, or they don’t. They either like them, or they don’t. They either trust them, or they don’t.

So if you want people to buy your product, your idea, or your story, you need to talk binary. If this is not part of your skill set, don’t despair – there are plenty of experts who can help you with it. They are called sales people.

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2 thoughts on “When knowledge is a hindrance, you need to think binary

  1. Here’s a quote from Sharon Kay Penman’s historic novel “Time and Chance”, in which Henry II and Thomas Becket had a legendary clash – the former the innovator the latter the conservative – whilst Eleanor of Aquitaine does ‘binary’ betwixt and between them…

    Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift
    Nor the battle to the strong
    Nor the riches to the intelligent, nor favour to men of skill
    But time and chance happen to them all
    (Ecclesiastes)

    PS: interesting that in French, a counterpart / colleague is called a ‘binôme’

  2. Hi Thierry,

    I have really enjoyed reading all of your blogs; this is a particular favourite. Challenging, informative, very entertaining and … well what else do you know? I even agree with your final conclusion! (Well I would, wouldn’t I?)

    Great job and I’m looking forward to your next piece.

    All the best,
    Fionn

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