Which of these numbers do you prefer:  10? or 100?

Ok, it depends. If they represent sales, profits, discounts, bonuses or prizes then bigger is better; if they’re costs, taxes, liabilities or parking fines then small is beautiful.

Reduce all your decisions down to simple numbers (and always choose bigger gains and smaller losses) and you’re bound to end up very, very rich.

Fortunately, most of us don’t usually ignore broader questions like ‘Where’s all that profit coming from?’ or ‘Why are the costs so low?’ which is why few of us make such simplistic decisions.

But some do. The 1970s Ford Pinto was a deathtrap, a car that exploded on collision. Faced with the prospect of a massive product recall, Ford calculated the cost of fixing the problem ($137M) and decided it was cheaper to let people die. ($49.5M)

pintodeform_1 (Ironically, the sales slogan for the Pinto was ‘In Your Wallet, You’ll Know It’s Right’.)

A 2001 cost-benefit analysis of national health systems (commissioned by Philip Morris) concluded the Czech Republic would save $5.8M Korunas (around $3.9M AUS) per year by encouraging young people to smoke. As Czech Prime Minister Zeman explained it “Smokers die sooner so the state doesn’t need to look after them in old age.”

That’s the danger of numeric thinking: by ignoring all ethical, moral, social, and environmental considerations the arithmetical mind reduces nature and humanity to mere integers, thereby permitting the callous exploitation and destruction of both.

It’s Evil by Numbers.

Let’s stop celebrating this particular cognitive disorder as some kind of special leadership quality and finally call it what it is: an intellectual disability, a kind of ‘fiscally-based autism’.

Until we do it’ll remain business as usual.

Avatar photo

Written by Jason Clarke

Twitter LinkedIn

Celebrated author, adventurer, gold medal Olympian and popular TV chef; Jason is none of these things. He is, however, one of the most sought-after creative minds in the country. As founder of Minds at Work, he’s helped people ‘think again’ since the end of the last century, working with clients across Australia in virtually every industry and government sector on issues ranging from creativity and trouble shooting to culture change and leadership.