In 1995 McArthur Wheeler robbed two Pittsburg banks in broad daylight wearing no disguise. He was shocked when he was arrested later the same day because he had rubbed lemon juice on his face. Lemon juice can be used as invisible ink, so he reasoned that as long as he stayed away from direct heat sources he would remain invisible. Police determined that he was neither mentally ill nor on drugs. He was just an idiot. Four years later, inspired by this spectacular mix of confidence and incompetence, David Dunning and Justin Kruger authored their now-famous study “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”
I got tear-gassed in 2011. In Athens. I was there to speak at a conference. My wife and I went for a walk in the scenic old part of town after dinner and accidentally wound up in an austerity riot near Syntagma Square. Burning piles of trash, riot police marching in a line, the deep boom of the tear gas cannon. We got swept along until we could make our way to the edge of the mob and slip down a side street, which led to a different part of the city-wide riot. We riot-hopped until we were chased by a little old lady with a farrier strip full of nails into the conference hotel, where we had cocktails and chit chat with academics from around the world.
In 1970, the United States conducted Operation Ivory Coast, a raid on the Son Tay prison camp in Vietnam to liberate POWs. The US Army Special Forces troopers were hand-selected. It was planned and rehearsed for months. And on November 21, after a difficult air penetration in hostile airspace, the 56-man assault force landed and flawlessly executed the plan. They took 1 wounded and neutralized 42 enemy guards. And rescued 0 POWs. Because they’d been moved months before. Which was known but compartmentalized and not communicated until the last minute, at which point leadership failed to overcome wishful thinking.
Cunningham’s Law states that the best way to get a correct answer on the internet is not to ask the question but to post an incorrect answer . The actual mechanism underlying the phenomenon probably revolves around motivation, the why. But I’m interested in creation, the what. And what Cunningham’s Law reveals is the same simple truth that OuLiPo relies on; it is easier to react than to act. It is easier to refine and correct than to create. This is why so many companies spend so much time and money polishing turds. That and the sunk cost fallacy.
“On deadly ground, fight,” refers to a recurring but poorly understood psychological mechanism whereby a small military force, facing destruction, defeats a larger one. They’re a few conditions: there must be no other options outside of victory or complete destruction. The smaller force must be more highly trained than its opposition. It must have high internal cohesion.
Victorious generals, upon returning to Rome, held a triumphus. Face painted red and garbed in a gold-embroidered purple toga, he rode a gilded four-horse chariot as he led a procession of troops, prisoners, and spoils throughout the streets of Rome. Behind him in the chariot stood an auriga, a slave who held a crown above his head and continuously whispered: “Remember you are mortal.”
I’ve spent a lot of hours on the other side of one-way mirrors, both actual and digital. I’ve seen people throw phones, shout, rage quit. I’ve learned new ways of swearing. I’ve seen children cry.
In undergraduate, I studied in India. Sacred Hindu dance and music. We traveled all over the south of India. I don’t travel well in groups. I get overstimulated and cranky. Our entire grade for that course was based on a daily journal to be handed in at the end of the trip. I made booklets by folding in half a stack of 10 sheets of 8.5”x11” paper. At the end of the trip, I hand-bound the booklets into a book using hotel sewing kits. It was about 3 inches thick. And at least an inch of that consisted of elaborately polished and meticulously detailed complaints about pretty much everyone around me. Poetry and prose.
A few years ago, a buddy of mine got squadded with Jerry Miculek. Figuring the man commonly considered to be the greatest all-around competitive shooter of all time might have some good pointers, my buddy asked, “Hey Jerry, have any tips?” In his trademark faint cajun accent, the winner of 50+ major championships replied, “Shoot fast, don’t miss.”
It’s quite cheap to be wrong. I can usually do it for free. Being right requires a bit more investment. Conversely, remaining wrong can be wildly expensive and remaining right can be very profitable.
Make better digital products with us!
Get to know us better.