Nick Johnston19 January 2018

How to avoid being a turkey this year

With Christmas done and dusted for another year, I want to share a suitably festive story (that has an important lesson) with you. I’ve paraphrased a story from Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile – a book I have been recommending to anyone who will listen for the past few months.

The Great Turkey Problem

A turkey is fed for a thousand days by a butcher. With every day he is fed, it confirms to the turkey and his friends – with increased statistical confidence – that butchers love turkeys.

The butcher continues to feed the turkey until a few days before Christmas. On this day the turkey’s confidence in the statement that the butcher loves turkeys is at its highest point.

But the ‘evidence’ the turkey has turns out to be wrong. The truth of the matter is that the butcher actually loves selling turkeys for Christmas dinner, and not the turkeys themselves.

So, what we can we take out of The Great Turkey Problem?

Avoid being a turkey: don’t mistake absence of evidence for evidence of absence.

The turkey saw that there was no evidence of harm from the butcher to any of its turkey buddies and mistakenly read this is as evidence that there was no risk of harm from the butcher. But as the turkey discovered, this was incorrect.

A more practical innovation example can be seen in the process of ideation and experimentation.

You can come up with 15 (or even more) ideas that fail when you take them through experimentation with your customer. Analysing this evidence you have collected, it’s tempting to say, “with increased statistical confidence” that your ideation and experimentation process is broken as it does not generate any valuable ideas. However, just like the turkey, you would be mistaking absence of evidence for evidence of absence. That 16th idea might be the one that customers love and provides your organisation with massive profits.


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