Error Calculation

This image and others like it do the rounds on email and facebook every now and again.

And they drive me crazy!

They are popular. They garner hundreds if not thousands of comments.

People love to answer the question and show off their knowledge. You should probably lock in your answer now, to see if you are right.

Even when they’re told that 92% of people fail this test, close to 100% of people think that they’ll get it right!

I’ve seen full-time professional Maths Teachers get the answer wrong.

But that’s not what drives me crazy. What drives me crazy is that even when you tell them that their answer is wrong, they won’t ask why or change their answer. They will simply defend their logic. And assert that their answer is right.

That’s what we all do (yes, me included) in lots of areas of life .

We don’t search for the right answer. We simply defend our wrong answer.

Wrong answers are what is keeping so many businesses small, and families poor.

But we don’t search for the right answer. We simply defend our wrong answer.

The error that 92% of people make is a simple one to make. And a simple one to correct. But it can only be corrected when we are prepared to admit that we are wrong – or at least that we don’t the right answer.

And most people aren’t in that place. No matter what the problem is.

I like watching “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and it is very common to see and hear people on that show in the middle of a very public error in thinking. It’s fascinating that most people have no idea that their thinking is wrong.

Sometimes, they will simply eliminate the right answer as the first thing they do. For example, if the question  was:

Carrots are what colour?

a. Red

b. Yellow.

c. Green.

d. Orange

Some contestants will say “Well, I don’t think they are orange. So I’ll rule ‘d’ out”.

It sounds logical that if you don’t think it is the right answer you should rule it out. The problem with that logic is that just because you don’t think it is the right answer does NOT mean that is the wrong answer.

Then they might say something like “I know tomatoes are red. So I’ll rule out ‘a’ too.”

This is another logical-sounding answer. It is based on real-life experience and a verifiable truth. Tomatoes ARE red. But we all know that the fact that tomatoes are red does not preclude carrots from also being red. The error is not in what you know to be true, it is in assuming that because of that truth you can eliminate something else that is not true.

Then, sometimes they’ll say something like “Well, I’m pretty sure a carrot is a vegetable, and most plants are green. So I’ll lock in ‘c'”.

Again, this sounds logical and it is based on a verifiable truth. Carrots are a vegetable. And most plants are green. But combining those facts and leaping to the conclusion that carrots are green, is also an error.

Often, people are aware that they don’t know why an answer is right, but does this stop them thinking they are right? No. Not usually.

They’ll say things like “As soon as I saw the question, yellow was jumping out at me. I don’t know why, but I can’t see any reason why that would be wrong, so I’ll lock in ‘b'”.

Even if the host, Eddie, tries to coach them that they have other options, and asks if their current answer is their “final answer”, they will often stick with the wrong answer.

Relying on your intuition instead of logic is not necessarily wrong. But often the reason why you can’t explain how your answer is right, is because there is no logical explanation. It is just simply wrong.

But contestants on “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, even the ones who get the answer wrong, do not make the same error that most people make when they try to answer the question above.

If you do want to be a millionaire you have to know that the correct answer on “Who wants to be a millionaire?” is never “Yes!” or “*I* want to be a millionaire!”.

Because even though that answer might sound intuitively correct and logically correct, it is wrong.

And it is wrong for one simple reason.

Neither of those answers are options.

The only options are a, b, c, d (or pass).

If you lock in either a, b, c or d, you at least have a chance of winning a million dollars.

I find it amusing when I hear people say “failure is not an option”. Many of these people are failing. And they are failing simply because they haven’t correctly identified their options. Failure is always an option in life. Of course, if you are wise, you will simply choose a different option.

But most people when answering the above question, assume it is a calculation question, so they might answer “20”. The problem with calculation questions is that there are literally an infinite number of wrong answers, and only one right answer. And when you tell them it is wrong. They will tell you why it is right (e.g. order of operations). Their thinking is correct that the answer to the calculation is 20. But “20” is not the answer.

20 is just one of the infinite number of wrong answers. The odds of getting any calculation right are not good. Even if you are a big gambler, infinity to one are not good odds.

And knowing that 92% of people fail the test, should alert us to the fact that the odds are not good.

What drives me crazy is that most people don’t allow themselves to be coached – even when they know the odds are against them. If you allow yourself to be coached, you are giving yourself much better odds of getting the right answer. 

The first thing the coach will likely do is to identify your options. When you have identified your options, it is much easier to evaluate them and it simplifies the process for you e.g. “Your options are a, b, c or d”.

Of course, you might still get it wrong. But you radically reduce your chances of getting it wrong. Your odds of getting it right improve dramatically from just one in infinity, to at least one in four even if you randomly choose one with no thought at all!

In Life, you might not even know what the question is, let alone the answer. But it always helps to identify your options.

And hopefully, next time you “see” the question, you’ll know the answer is “c”.

When you look at your business and your finances, don’t confuse calculations with choices.

Remember, wrong answers and failure are always an option. But could getting a coach be a better option?

“Lock it in, Eddie”.

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