Tiny, Reliable Indicators are Clockwork Angels
A successful consultant uses small indicators to make big decisions. If he explains his methods to data-worshippers, he sounds like an idiot. When it later turns out that he was right, the doubters claim he was lucky, saying, “You can’t possibly extrapolate that outcome from that data.”
Consider the following:
A large group of 4-year old children are led into a room, one at a time. The room is equipped with a two-way mirror. Each child is seated and given a marshmallow. “You can eat the marshmallow right now if you want. But if you wait until I come back to eat your marshmallow, I’ll give you a second marshmallow to go with it.” The giver of marshmallows then leaves the child alone in the room.
Is there anything we could learn from such a test? Could it tell us anything important about a child’s future?
One third of the children ate the marshmallow immediately.
One third held out for a short time, then ate the marshmallow.
One third waited 15 to 20 minutes until the giver of marshmallows returned with the promised, second marshmallow.
Small indicators are valuable to a savvy consultant, just as they were valuable to Walter Mischel*, a scientist at Stanford 40 years ago.
Fourteen years later, at the age of eighteen, each of the original 216 children was located. Those who didn’t eat the marshmallow scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT (610 verbal and 652 math versus 524 verbal and 528 math.)
At age 40, the group that didn’t eat their marshmallows had more successful marriages, higher incomes, greater career satisfaction and better health than the marshmallow eaters.
The 4 year-old who eats the marshmallow is oriented toward the present.
The 4 year-old who waits is oriented toward the future.
Yes, we can learn big things from small indicators.
Six years ago I sent you a Monday Morning Memo that linked your ability to accumulate wealth to your orientation toward the future. Do you remember it?
2009 is going to be a year of upheaval.
Will you be oriented toward the future?
Or are you trapped in the present?
Before you eat that marshmallow, let’s talk.
Roy H. Williams
*Walter Mischel was a professor of psychology at Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia Universities and a past editor of Psychological Review. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 and became president of the Association for Psychological Science in 2007.
Another Secret to Success: I sent you a memo a couple of months ago about how to gain credibility with your customers in 2009. Here it is if you'd like to re-read it.
Business Help is coming to Denver. You should attend.
Take a look at the upcoming classes at Wizard Academy.