Saturday 3 October 2009

XYZ is not a factor

Once, the famous cartoonist RK Laxman was asked what makes a good cartoonist. He mentioned several factors, like being good at drawing, having a sense of humour, having an excellent grasp of politics. I don’t remember the list.

What I do remember was that he emphasised, over and over, that you needed all these at once. Having, say, three of them, and not having the fourth, was no good.

Whenever I hear or read someone saying that this or that (character, charisma, curiosity) is (or isn’t) a factor for success in something (leadership, innovation), I remember Laxman’s interview.

Hey, factors don’t act alone, except in books where the author has decided the conclusion before he begun his investigation. Which is why he spent his entire time factoring out effects (“Everything else being equal, charisma is not a factor.”) and none in searching for interactions between between factors (“In the vast majority of cases, an effective leader had both character and charisma”).

Wouldn’t over-complicating lead to analysis paralysis?

But who’s talking about making things uselessly complex. I’m all for simplifying. Science and technology doesn’t move an inch without making simplifying approximations, and it has come a long way. That’s equally true for the arts subjects. Simplification (approximation, generalisation, etc) is indispensible for understanding and discussing anything.

However, it’s equally important to be conscious that one is simplifying, that whatever one has is, at best, an extremely crude copy of reality, and that the real world is not obliged to resemble it.

So you have to make room for things you don’t know or deliberately left out, that is, for Chance.

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