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Don't Throw Dice, Play Chess


June 13, 2022

The practice of Cleromancy is a more ornate way of saying you will take your chances, as in the rolling of dice, but the outcome, while seemingly random, is attributed to an outside invisible or controlling force.

This is related to a concept that I have written about before — a black swan event — where something unpredictable happens — beyond what you would expect — and there are serious repercussions.

Avoiding Black Swan Events

So, how are they related? A common mistake made in strategic planning development comes in the form of misattribution of the correlation/causality of collected data and its use in generating predicted outcomes. This bias can be progenitor of other issues, such as confirmation bias, reframing bias or even a complete misalignment between user inputs and how these inputs are utilized to generate a strategy aligned with desired results.

If I think the outcome of the roll of the dice is not random but controlled by some outside force, I start to utilize variables not originally supported by evidence to generate a conclusion. These imaginary data points, once set, will cause me to decouple from — what is in a real form — tangible contributing factors. So, if I think that there is an invisible force that will help meet the desired benchmarks of a dice roll, this opens the door to a black swan event.

The unpredictability of the black swan — in this instance — is manifested in part by the false fact patterns generated by imagined data using a process not based on anything I can substantiate.

In Brazil, those seeking predicted outcomes pursue are referred to as “jogo de buzios” or the throwing of shells. Sixteen dice, which can end up hundreds of ways, can offer interpreted solutions to the problems presented. There are dozens of variations, and I am certain many wagers have suffered as a result of these consultations. The individuals who report to be able to read these shells are highly sought out; they advertise on billboards and have kiosks in a wide range of places throughout the country — they are successful, but not universally loved.

Embracing Evidence-Based Strategy

If you are faced with a significant decision related to future-facing momentum in your business, sometimes you could potentially slip into the thinking that “I’ll just roll the dice and see what happens” will yield a favorable outcome. But I’m oversimplifying. The system is very complicated — not by the idea of rolling the dice or throwing the shells — but that there is a power or unseen contributing positive influence that will cause the outcome to be biased towards favorable.

This is the misattribution — in this case it’s the irrational belief that there are circumstances beyond your control (or anyone’s, really) that will generally always act in your favor. This irrationalism can trigger a cascade of events leading to a black swan event.

The importance of not only collecting good data but using decision making mechanisms and synthesizing processes that are evidence-based and sound will avoid the disintegration of strategy into relying on unsound or unreliable systems. Rolling the dice may have an element of excitement, but that excitement lives in the lack of the ability to accurately predict an outcome and a surprise endorphin rush when a positive result is achieved. That is not the sort of excitement that you should seek when determining a business strategy, or the black swan may be staring at you in the face.

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Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.