True Pundits Never Use The "S" Word

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Let me describe a work situation for you. You are given an assignment by your superior, which includes a description of how this task “should” basically go. Motivated but relatively inexperienced, you take on this task with vim and vigor, only to discover half way through the assignment that what “should” have occurred did not. Flustered and in a state of temporary confusion, you halt what you are doing and explain to your superior that what “should” have happened did not occur at all, but you are swiftly reprimanded for your incompetence. If this sounds familiar, I hope you are more experienced now and can reflect on the true problem here, which is the word “should”. Though only a mischievous culprit in this case, “should” is arguably the most ruinous word, and if the stakes are high enough, deadly word, in the entire English language. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to keep reading!

Contrary to the views of many, entropy makes the word “should” a rarely seen critter. Entropy refers to the amount of disorder inherent to a system under consideration, and as such, the odds are always against “should”, because there is only one desired outcome and a myriad of undesired outcomes spawned from unforeseen or unprevented circumstances. The three main problems with the word “should” are as follows. The first is that entropy increases as the complexity of a system increases. For example, entropy is low when trying to arrange three blocks of different size in order of increasing size (1 correct answer but only 6 possible permutations) but much higher when considering a Rubik’s cube (1 correct answer for 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 combinations). As we work on more complex systems, it is increasingly probable something will go wrong before we reach the desired outcome. The second problem is that protocols or instructions in a process to reach the outcome are not always followed. That is, other people at some point must do what they are supposed to do, but this is not guaranteed. The third problem with “should” stems from the inherent hubris we all possess. We think we are masters of our fields, but the word “should” betrays our ignorance, because it suggests to others we believe we are so knowledgeable that we know exactly how everything will occur for a series of events leading to the desired outcome. Does this sound possible?

In my humble opinion, people who truly resemble pundits do not use “should” but rather speak in terms of conditional statements and probabilities. It may sound more ugly and cumbersome, but remember that life is not always gift-wrapped with a little red bowtie on top. A lot of time, effort, and lives would be saved if we allowed people to cache the set of possibilities in our instructions or advice. For example, instead of saying “Don’t worry, the airbag should deploy if you get into an accident” (reactive and hopeful advice but it sounds nice and neat) advise your teen to “drive slowly, wear your seatbelt, always use your turn signal, err on the side of caution, and always watch what the other drivers around you are doing, because the airbag is not guaranteed to work if you get into an accident” (proactive and plan-based advice that is much more cumbersome). If you think I am an old codger who is afraid of his shadow, I urge you to consider the current state of ebola in the United States. According to US officials, in the Texas hospital which treated a man (Eric Duncan) who had visited Liberia, there was a safety protocol that “should” have been followed when treating this man, but apparently it was not, which caused the health care worker treating Mr. Duncan to contract the disease. I just hope in this case that the word “should” does not cost this health care worker and many more of us (if the disease spreads) our lives. My younger brother (a programmer and software designer) used to tell me that in programming, having 1 solution to solve a problem is insufficient, and it is more useful to have 7 solutions for any given problem in case the other solutions don’t work for some reason. I used to chuckle and say this was overkill, but in retrospect, I think this is one example of the younger brother acting as a pundit and the older brother acting as a fool “should”.

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Source by David Partyka

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