Trends and Margins

Great article on the election recently by Nate Silver on  In it, he discusses the results of the presidential election, and a few reasonable conclusions based on them:  polling is dead, America is divided, Republican populism reigns.

But then he also points out how things would look different if just one person in a hundred had changed their vote.  The conclusions would be just as strong: the analysts were right, populism can never command the votes needed for electoral success, and the arc of progress with respect to diversity and inclusion is clear.

If the difference between two sets of opposite conclusions is so small, might there not be some truth to both?

I think we see this phenomenon in much of life.  We spend our time at the margin, in the midst of the new information, trying to figure out what’s about to change, with all the emotion and uncertainty that brings.

But where we end up is a function of the trend–the accumulation of these moments, rather than their individual impact.


And our emotions make this all the more difficult. We tend to recall the emotional moments and forget the times that we’re quietly impactful.  We soften our own errors over time–so we don’t remember how wrong we can be when a new and vivid situation occurs.

It’s tough to fit new information into the bigger picture.  Take the time to look back, put events in their wider context, and remember where we’ve been.  Be deliberate in remembering the broader perspective.




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