Life Is Analog, Not Digital

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Back in undergraduate engineering, Prof. Andy Stevens taught us our first course on digital circuits. In analog, everything is on a continuum: you can measure how many amps are coming through the system with ever more precision, or how many dollars you have allocated to marketing. In digital, everything is binary: 1 or 0, true or false, yes or no.

At the end of the intro day, Prof. Stevens said, and I remember this clearly after 20 years, "never forget, it is all a lie."

A lie? How was it a lie?

In the digital world, everything looks clean, simple, binary: true or false, yes or no, one or zero. There are no grey areas wherein you put in an input, and are not 100% sure what the output will be. To make the world simpler, to enable everything from mainframe computers to iPhones, we create this digital fiction.

It is often easy to get caught up in seeming simplicities. The business and technology press and popular media make it seem as if a few good (and obvious) decisions lead inevitably to success, while every failure must have been a few patently obvious idiotic mistakes.

As LE pointed out on Sunday, "Business and business decisions are not digital they are analog."

Even the most striking successes are littered with hundreds or more  decisions that were either incorrect given the information available at the time, or correct but still led to failures. As Prof. Bob Clemen taught us in Duke Business School, it is about making the right decision, not guaranteeing the right outcome.

At the same time, there are plenty of activities and decisions that are absolutely crucial and obvious to people with experience in that particular field. Clients of mine like to call it "basic blocking and tackling." Simplifying the purchase order signing process will not guarantee success, but it sure will improve its odds by reducing friction. Will it reduce it enough? Try and you will know. Simplifying scaling of your infrastructure will not guarantee uptime, but it will increase its odds. Will it reduce it enough? Try and you will know.

My job as a consultant is to help people make the best decisions, in the expectation that it will improve their chances of a better result. But as I always remind them, and now (thanks to LE) in new terms: life is analog, not digital.