Fooled by Randomness, with the Narrative to Prove It

The election results are a perfect example of how outcomes affect narratives – how we craft stories after the fact to conform with what we now know.

Consider these headlines, which all make wildly sweeping claims. These look at the event as inevitable, instead of casting it as a fairly random outcome:


I believe all of the above are incorrect. Before you push back on the election outcome being random any more, note my focus is on the after-fact-nature of the narrative, and not the politics.

Had Clinton Defeated Trump, there would have been a different set of generalizations, all extrapolating a random event in a different way, and just as wrong.

Set aside politics, and instead run the 2016 World Series through our multiverse simulation over and over again until you had enough data to draw some reasonable conclusions (10,000+ times is probably overkill, but what the heck, let’s have some fun).

If you are a determinist who believes that the exact same results will occur each and every time, well then, move on, this post is not for you. For the rest of us, understand how tiny random changes can have outsized impacts – better know as the butterfly effect from Chaos theory. Our multi-verse simulations generates different outcomes in proportion to their likelihood.

Given that the series was won in extra innings in Game 7 — does it get any closer than that? — this very easily could have turned out very differently. But it’s the changing narrative to fit what we know after the facts that is so fascinating to me as an investor.

The “Curse” lives (or not) based on a fortuitous bounce one way (or the other).

The role of luck is a consistent theme I have heard in almost every Masters in Business interview I have done. The value of chance, serendipity, good fortune is far larger than we imagine; randomness is a much bigger part of our lives than we care to admit. This is not false modesty on the parts of billionaires, Nobel Prize winners, CEOs and others who all have stated that luck matters a lot. It is simply an honest acknowledgement of an uncomfortable truth.

Consider that run of headlines above. These are classic examples of hindsight bias: broad after the act insights that assume an inevitable victory by one side and a sweeping extrapolation of those conclusions. They feel true, given what now looks like an inevitable outcome. But if it was the result of chance, what does that say about our need to craft convenient after the fact narratives?

Why random? Consider:

That sext to the girl which she did not delete found by the parent who reported it which made its way to FBI director at precisely when it did. At the time, the Republican nominee was in freefall, in the middle of an endless stream of damaging revelations. The previously close polls had blown up, and it looked like the Democratic nominee was heading to an epic win and control of the Senate. Weiner sexting ground that to a halt, depressed voter turnout, and very likely contributed to the different outcome.

I suspect that Donald J. Trump is as surprised as one about the outcome.

Play this out 1000s of times, and you get many different results. In some simulations the “Wiener-Pics” are found at a different time or never make it to Comey and she wins; in others the Access Hollywood tape or the Non Payment of Taxes is revealed at a different time, or is never found, and he wins.

But you must admit the timing in either case is truly a random thing.

In our multi-verse, this could have happened months prior, or post-election, or not at all. But it happened at what was precisely a moment in time that had a substantial impact, conceivably just enough to affect turnout, votes, etc. All but the most rabid partisans must admit the truly random nature of all that.

Consider this randomness in light of those narratives. These story lines make sense after the fact, but that is simply your mind explaining the outcome as inevitable.

As Nassim Taleb warned us, it is easy to be completely and totally fooled by randomness.


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