Changing Reality

Yesterday’s election in the US offers some great lessons for those who want to change reality.  The first, and biggest, lesson is that it’s impossible to change reality just by ignoring it and inserting your own.

Indeed, many conservatives have expressed dismay at Romney’s loss when victory was inevitable, at least those firmly ensconced in the GOP echo chamber.  This despite signs that had long been pointing to a clear – though certainly not assured or overwhelming – victory for Obama.  Nate Silver deserves a lot of credit for using deep statistical analysis to show this reality, his FiveThirtyEight blog drawing strong readership along with conservative ire.

The lesson here is that the first step to changing reality is to get as clear and unbiased understanding of it as possible. Time magazine has a wonderful piece on how the Obama campaign team used big data to understand the on-the-ground reality and test hypotheses.  This isn’t to say that Obama’s team was unbiased – indeed, I suspect they were – but rather that they used data to test and challenge their biases in order to understand reality better.

The second step to changing reality is to understand what you want it to look like once you’re done.  Both sides had pretty clear – and simple – visions: put our guy in the White House.

But the third step, and the one that makes the first so critical, is to chart a path from the current reality to the desired reality.  Again, the Obama team’s use of big data and deep analytics gave them the ability to test actions and get near real-time feedback on whether they had the desired effect.

The lesson here is twofold.  First, if you don’t know “what is”, then it’s extremely difficult to create an effective plan (imagine holding a map, knowing that you want to get to Las Vegas, but having no idea where you are starting from).  Second, what works works.  The best strategist is useless if his strategy fails to produce results.  And the best test of results is reality.

These lessons can be applied to just about any kind of work or organization – whether you want to change your world, your business, or your life, start by understanding reality as well and as objectively as you can.  Craft a vision of your future, and then chart (and test!) a path to get from where you are to where you want to be.

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