How to make better decisions: consider two options rather than just one

It’s not rocket science.

Ohio State University professor Paul Nutt spent a career studying strategic decisions in businesses and nonprofits and government organizations. The number of alternatives that leadership teams consider in 70 percent of all important strategic decisions is exactly one. Yet there’s evidence that if you get a second alternative, your decisions improve dramatically.

One study at a medium-size technology firm investigated a group of leaders who had made a set of decisions ten years prior. They were asked to assess how many of those decisions turned out really well, and the percentage of “hits” was six times higher when the team considered two alternatives rather than just one.


That 70 per cent figure is interesting.

Sharp practice at the FT? Or just sub-editorial licence?


Now, what does this column heading in the FT Magazine suggest? That the paper’s star American editor was on holiday with the Prez.

The impression is corroborated by the puff on the front of the paper.


Now, here’s what the piece actually says:

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend with friends on Martha’s Vineyard. This verdant island off the coast of Massachusetts has long been a playground for the well-heeled, (mostly) liberal crowd, epitomised by the Kennedys and Clintons…

The ‘friends’, however, were not the Obamas. And the article is mostly a complaint about how inconvenient the presence of the President and his entourage makes life in the Vineyard for the mostly well-heeled liberal crowd.

One expects this kind of misleading puffery from the Daily Mail. But from the august FT???

A new kind of apprenticeship

Now here’s a really interesting idea. The Office of national Statistics is offering data analytics apprenticeships to school leavers with good mathematics results.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has begun recruiting the UK’s first data analytics apprentices.

Aimed at people with relevant A levels or equivalent experience, the ONS data analytics apprenticeships scheme provides an opportunity for talented individuals to work on some of the most exciting analytical and policy questions facing decision-makers and wider society. The scheme will lead to an accredited level 4 diploma.

ONS Deputy National Statistician for Data Capability Heather Savory said: “ONS is looking for the best people to take full advantage of cutting edge tools and technologies and to help ONS make the most of the data revolution.

“Our role here at ONS is to provide high quality, trustworthy and relevant analytical evidence about our economy and society to help people make informed decisions. There could not be a better and more exciting time to join us, and start a career in data analytics as the UK’s first apprentices in this field.”

There are six places on the scheme, based at the ONS’s Newport office, where its new Data Science Campus is located…

Terrific idea. Terrific. Also neatly undermines the widespread notion that apprenticeships are all about plumbing.

Werner lost in the Internet maze

Hmmm… On the basis of this trailer I’m not sure it’ll be worth the journey. It looks like famous-director-who-knows-nothing-about-the Net goes round talking to famous geeks who blind him with tech and say silly things.

How the tech industry differs from the automobile business

Reading a fascinating WashPo interview with Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, I was struck by this:

We’re a bit larger today, so we can do a bit more than we could do 10 years ago or even five years ago. But we still have, for our size, an extremely focused product line. You can literally put every product we make on this table. That really is an indication of how focused it is. I think that’s a good thing. Regardless of who you are, there’s only so many things that you can do at a very high-quality and deep, deep level — personally and in business. And so we’re not going to change that. That’s core to our model and way of thinking.

This seems very different to the way most successful modern companies operate. With them, the game appears to be to provide a product to match every discernible market niche.

Take Mercedes, for example. I’m perpetually baffled by the various Mercedes model I see on our roads. So I went to the company’s site to try and get a handle on the range.

Here’s what I found. Mercedes sell 28 different types of consumer vehicle in the UK (I’ve ignored the commercial stuff), to wit:

  • 3 types of hatchback
  • 4 types of saloon
  • 4 types of estate car
  • 6 different coupés
  • 4 different models of cabriolet/roadster
  • 6 SUV models
  • 1 MPV

My guess (I haven’t checked) that the BMW range is just as diverse/confusing. It must be a hell of a challenge to maintain some level of coherence in this profusion. How do Mercedes sales personnel keep up? Maybe they instantly categorise every customer who comes in the door. As in: Here comes an estate-car customer. Oh, bet she’s a coupé type. He’s definitely S-class material. And so on.

Maybe the contrast between Mercedes and Apple is emblematic of the cultural differences between the tech and the auto industries. In that sense, Elon Musk’s approach to the Tesla range seems much closer to Apple’s.



Today is Bloomsday — the day when Joyce enthusiasts all over the world celebrate Ulysses. In my case, I always host a Bloomsday lunch in which guests drink red Burgundy and eat Gorgonzola sandwiches. Why? Because that’s what Leopold Bloom had when he lunched in Davy Byrne’s pub, taking a break from his perambulations around Dublin.

This year’s lunch was special because one of the guests was an old friend, Dr Vivien Igoe, who is one of the foremost experts on Joyce’s connections with his native city. Her new book, The Real People of Joyce’s Ulysses came out last week, and throws a fascinating light on Joyce’s powers of observation and imagination.

We’ve always known that most of the hundreds of characters in Ulysses were drawn from real people, and many of them appear under their own names in the pages of the novel. But who were they, really? Now we know, thanks to an extraordinary piece of scholarship.

Theresa May-Machiavelli

This morning’s Observer column:

So Theresa May’s investigatory powers bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons. It passed its third reading by 444 votes to 69 and now goes to the Lords for further consideration. Their lordships will do their best – and they are good at scrutinising complex legislation – but sometime in the next parliamentary session the bill, substantially unchanged, will receive the royal assent and become law. As a result, the powers of the national security state will have been significantly expanded.

As an example of legislative cunning, the bill is a machiavellian masterpiece…

Read on

The interesting case of the Internet’s ‘i’

The AP style book now says that the Internet should no longer be capitalised.

Vint Cerf, the co-designer of the network, disagrees.

The editors at AP fail to understand history and technology,” Cerf told Politico on Wednesday (June 1). His beef is that there has always been a line between the public internet and a private internet that has no connection to the outside world, although it shares the same TCP/IP protocols. This, he warns, is simply daft. “By lowercasing you create confusion between the two and that’s a mistake,” he wrote.

I agree.