The gift of results

When Ignaz Semmelweis pioneered statistics in order to save countless women from dying in childbirth, his fellow doctors refused to believe him. They ignored his work, didn’t wash their hands and it was another twenty years before his insights on the spread of disease were adopted.

We live in a faster, more competitive world than he did.

When Jethro Tull wrote about the rotation of crops, many farmers continued to do things in the old way. Over time, though, the yields don’t lie. You don’t have to like the idea, but you can see that it works.

Results show up. They’re easy to see, easy to measure and they persist.

The bridge falls down or it doesn’t. Market share goes up or it doesn’t.

We can view results as a threat, or see them as an opportunity. It depends on whether we’re defending a little-understood status quo or seeking to make things work better.

Results don’t care about our explanation. We need a useful explanation if we’re going to improve, but denying the results doesn’t change them.

As the world has become ever more filled with results, it has crowded out each individual’s personal narrative of how the world works. Particularly in times of change and negative outcomes, this can cause a lot of distress.

Our narrative is ours, and it informs who we are and the story we tell ourselves.

Beliefs are powerful. They’re personal. They can have a significant impact on the way we engage with ourselves and others. But results are universal and concrete, and no matter how much we’d like them to go away, there they are.

When people talk about how modernity has changed humanity, they often overlook the fundamental impact that results have had. Competitive environments create more results, at greater speed, and those results compound over time.

We still need a narrative and we still need our individual outlook. But over the last century, we’ve had to make more and more room for the systems that create results. Our shared reality demands it.