The Gentleman's C approach to war
Via a WSJ interview with Niall Fitzgerald, the outgoing co-chairman of Unilever, we were led to an apparent dictum of Colin Powell that we think deserves more attention. It's funny to check out this site, for instance, recounting Powell's lessons of leadership, in light of his current situation. But here's the lesson of particular interest:
Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.
Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut. Powell’s advice is don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. His instinct is right: Today, excessive delays in the name of information-gathering breeds "analysis paralysis". Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.
The geek in us says that Powell, or his transcribers, have their probabilities and percentages confused here, but anyway what's striking is his amazingly low benchmark for accurate information -- just a 40 percent chance of being right would be sufficient basis for action. A 40 percent exam score was probably enough to get Dubya a pass at Yale so maybe Colin is just incorporating his leader's standards in his own decisionmaking.
The rest of these lessons are good for a laugh. Think of Dubya as you read each one, but especially, when trying to understand where the USA has gone in the last four years, consider:
You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.