The Ladder of Poor Decisions

I dimly recall reading somewhere that, on a broooaaad average, half of US management decisions are wrong. I’d love to cite that source, but it was something I picked up working backstage at a university in  the early 90’s and skimmed through while waiting on a cue.

That’s poor documentation for an insight that has informed my approach to managing and dealing with managers most of my adult life.  Even so, I have found this to be roughly true. We are only right about half the time – on the first try.

In my RPG systems (I’ve written three) I assume that an average person will succeed at a common task (that they have no particular expertise in) about half the time. This more or less works out.

Now, this is hard to pin down because most of us do not keep score about when we are right or wrong. Some experts think we should start, but most of us don;t actually balance our checkbooks, so good luck with that.

At a recent writer’s group, we received well meaning if unsolicited advice about how we go about making poor decisions. Complete with a hand-out.

Ladder of Inference

Adapted from The Fifth Discipline by Peter Serge

We work our way up this ladder of loosely defined terms whenever we make a decision, or so the presentation went. Experience informs data which informs Meaning and so forth. On average, though, we go up this ladder in about six seconds, which does not leave a lot of time to fully consider all the steps, particularly the lower ones.

Which may go a long way towards explaining our half-wrong problem.

But there’s an even chance that’s not the problem at all.

Our friends the octopi (a frequent subject of this blog) have a completely different approach., as this well-animated TedEd video explains:

Now you know.



Links and a memo to the lawnmower boy

First, some relevant links, because my stranger essays (like the one below) are an acquired taste.

At Are We Lost Yet? I finally posted a Behind the Hike on Sterling Pass and the Vultee Arch north of Sedona.

At Curious Continuity, we expanded a little on the Robots and AI’s vs your crappy job.

I have a new blog, Brazen Wonk, which will become my outlet for political posts. I am not shy about my politics, but as this thing transitions towards an author blog, I did not want my wonkish rantings cluttering up a blog about life’s lessons learned, and writing announcements. Just as importantly, I’m trying to build an overall narrative about the importance of moderation in a democracy, and I do not want to clutter that up with random musings on lawncare, or the antics of octopi.

The latest is about the Gorsuch confirmation battle.

Bored? Sober? Penny has updated Wine Hobo with profile of Pillsbury Wine Company in Cottonwood, and their invaluable listing of wine related events.

If wine’s not strong enough, Total Wine and More will teach you about whisky.

Finally, an octopus has eaten all of a jellyfish except the part it wants to wear.

You’re welcome.

Now this:

Open Memo to the kids who mowed my lawn

Let’s start by saying you did a decent job of it, despite a number of challenges that you mostly brought upon yourselves.  So this is not (for the most part) to complain about your work. The thing is that I have a lot of experience both in mowing my lawn in particular, and making a good effort at an inherently unprofitable job in general. Here then, is some unsolicited advice.

Some background, since we are sharing this with the rest of the internet: My wife hired you, the twenty something male whose name I did not catch (so “Guy”) to mow our front lawn when you came to the door to solicit that work. Front yard and trim around our wall for $25. Only, we didn’t have cash that day, so she told you to come back in a few days. Then we both forgot about that, thinking that you were not likely to come back.

So you know, knocking on doors looking for odd jobs is tweeker behavior, particularly in this neighborhood. Now, we don’t think anything of the kind now, but that’s the starting assumption you’re going to fight when approaching middle-aged white homeowners.

Tweekers don’t come back. You did. There ends that debate.

You woke me up when you knocked on the door. Ok. It was like 10am, that’s fine. You had another twenty something woman with you, whose relationship to you I could not determine (so “Gal”), and your girlfriend, because you referred to her as such, and an infant child. Also, an electric lawnmower and a gas powered weed-eater of varying functionality.

With that scene set, here’s what I should have pulled you aside to tell you:

  • Bring your own water. Not all homeowners are as nice as I am.
  • If you’re going to mow strangers’ lawns, you need a gas powered lawnmower. Your day went better than it would have normally because I have an electric mower too, and have the exterior outlet and the pile of extension cords to support it.
    • A gas mower means not having to worry about any of that.
    • But if you’re going to stick with an electric mower, learn to over/under the cable. It’s an obscure show biz skill, but it halves the difficulty of feeding an extension cord across a given distance, such as the lawn you are mowing.
    • Star at the coil, and go out from that direction as if vacuuming a rug. The concentric circle method is for gas mowers.
  • I was happy to lend you my trimmer when yours died ( or simply outwitted you – it was hard to tell), but I was not happy to see how it was returned. With middle-aged men, the problem is as much the surprise as the damage. Hiding it essentially doubles your jeopardy. If you break something, tell us about it.
    • It cost just shy of $9 and a half hour of my time to fix it – but it took a week to get the part.
    • Even so, when (if) you come back, be prepared to use your own trimmer.
    • KIMG0128

      No good deed goes unpunished.


  • You paid twenty dollars for that diaper.

Let me explain that last. I offered another $25 to do the backyard as well, and you accepted. That work was well done, except I could see where progress stopped. The infant, whom your girlfriend had been struggling to deal with all morning, had filled her diaper, and you had no spares. So you and Gal worked furiously to get it mostly done, so you could go home and change the diaper. I had another twenty dollars of bonus work which would not have taken you long (trimming that bush spilling over the top of my wall – essentially a disguised tip). As it was, I had to wait for my part to come in to finish trimming my backyard.

This brings up a couple of broader lessons.

Leave the family home. They gain nothing by loitering on the sidewalk while you mow the lawn, and you lose revenue you can’t afford (more on that below) when those specious logistics fall apart.  It’s not just you. I have told many young stagehands that leaving early to give their significant others a ride or whatever costs them a half-day’s hourly wage. Is that really cheaper than a cab ride? Young people in love don’t always do that math.

A note for your girlfriend, and all the other SO’s who view their partner going off to work as some sort of threat to the relationship.  We pay you to do the work in part so that you will take it seriously. Bringing your SO to the jobsite gives the opposite impression. Also, useful people will always be in demand. If your boyfriend has nothing better to do with his time than hang out with you, there is likely an unpleasant reason for that.

Here’s your real problem, though. You made a total of $50 for about three hours of work. Split between the two adults, that’s just over $8/hour. That’s not going to get it done. I’ve spent time being twenty something and desperate, and I get that some money is better than no money, but you will starve to death doing lawns like this. There is no upward price pressure. At $60 or more, I’ll do the lawn myself. I am your real competition, and I am really good at mowing my own lawn.

But, as I said, you did a respectable job, and I asked you to come back in few weeks, and you said yes. And if you do, I’m going to ask if you have a working cel phone. If you have one, I’m going to refer you (both of you) to Rhino Staging, because their lowest rate represents a 50% increase in your hourly wage. But you gotta be able to just answer the phone, and you can’t bring your girlfriend.

Truth be told, though, I actually hoping you won’t come back. I’m actually hoping you find something better on your own.


Now you know.