Sunday, November 09, 2008

Binary Thinking

Barack Obama’s win last week and all the related discussion about a “Post-Racial” era in America made me think that we might enter the end of binary thinking. The fascinating element about Barack Obama is that he is not easily classified in binary terms, especially in regards to his race, upbringing and personal history. He is less the one or the other but more a continuum of a lot of different things. He is black and white, he is American but he grew up in foreign countries, he is a guy from Chicago but he only moved to Chicago in his twenties, he is an elitist and intellectual but he was a community organizer, too. 

Most the data analysts I am working with are used to think and to model in binary terms. It’s either 1 or 0, you are either in segment 1 or in segment 2, the campaign has either worked or not. The root of this approach resides in the long tradition of philosophy of dualism and binaries. It’s tough to move beyond it, especially for mathematically trained brains who believe that everything can be reduced to a 1and 0 formula, as any computer program is proof of. 

But life is rarely truly binary, and the models that we are building should attempt to reflect this life more accurate by moving beyond a simple binary structure. It’s often more useful to think less in opposites than in a continuum of elements, less in strong colors than in shades of something. Things are rarely true of false but more often a bit truer or a bit more false.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what planning in advertising is all about, too. It's try to bring science to the table of creativity, to mix deduction with induction. which often leads to the annoying definition of 'post-rationalization' while in reality should be called more often 'retrospective sense-making' because even the great invention of a scientist explained in a paper that is supposed to prove - in a rigorous and deductive way - the solution, in reality hide the fact that also an invention is the result of a leap, an intuition, a moment of creation that made it happen. A moment of creation that by the way it wouldn't have happened in the absence of all the key data and information that formed the starting point or the brief.
In other words, the work we do lives up on the antinomy between creative and science and without that tension and complexity it would be an useless form of art or a boring creative formula. And between the 2 planning options of being 'grand strategist' or 'ad twicker' our aim should be of trying to be both and live in the continoum between them because it's there that it lies the magic of our work.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a pity that you have to work with such binary thinkers in this age and you are SO different. It is even more of a pity that they have to work for you....who are those modelers in your team thinking that way in this time and era...FIRE THEM...!

There isnt anything like binary thinking is incorrect...fuzzy logic works, at times..not necessarily always..

It looks like you just take an example like someone is black and white and treat that fuzzy....wonder why. That is binary because it means that the person is black and white and another is black and yet another is white.... whatever SELLS is your religion, right SALESMAN?

Remember what Bill Bernbach said? Wonder if you have heard of him at just got into advertising, right?

When you stand for something, someone is for you and someone against you...but if you stand for nothing, you have nobody for you and nobody against you.

Fuzzy segmentation is not very actionable, buddy....

You seem to be having a mistaken identity, claiming yourself to be a data guru, but making advocating for the mushy logic...and ridiculing your own wonder you have never built a model yourself!

Preacher! you will like the following story...but dont jump too soon to conclusions

An atheist professor of philosophy speaks to his class on the problem science has with God, The Almighty.
He asks one of his new students to stand and......
Prof: So you believe in God?
Student: Absolutely, sir.
Prof : Is God good?
Student: Sure.
Prof: Is God all-powerful?
Student : Yes..
Prof: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to God to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But God didn't. How is this God good then? Hmm?
(Student is silent.)
Prof: You can't answer, can you? Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?
Student: Yes.
Prof: Is Satan good?
Student : No.
Prof: Where does Satan come from?
Student: From....God...
Prof: That's right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?
Student: Yes.
Prof: Evil is everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything. Correct?
Student: Yes.
Prof: So who created evil?
(Student does not answer.)
Prof: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don't they?
Student: Yes, sir.
Prof: So, who created them?
(Student has no answer.)
Prof: Science says you have 5 senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son...Have you ever seen God?
Student: No, sir.
Prof: Tell us if you have ever heard your God?
Student: No, sir.
Prof: Have you ever felt your God, tasted your God, smelt your God? Have you ever had any sensory perception of God for that matter?
Student: No, sir. I'm afraid I haven't.
Prof: Yet you still believe in Him?
Student: Yes.
Prof: According to empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your GOD doesn't exist.
What do you say to that, son?
Student: Nothing. I only have my faith.
Prof: Yes. Faith. And that is the problem science has.
Student: Professor, is there such a thing as heat?
Prof: Yes.
Student: And is there such a thing as cold?
Prof: Yes.
Student: o sir. There isn't.
(The lecture theatre becomes very quiet with this turn of events.)
Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat.
But we don't have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that.
There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat, we cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.
(There is pin-drop silence in the lecture theatre.)
Student: What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?
Prof: Yes. What is night if there isn't darkness?
Student : You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light....But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? In reality, darkness isn't. If it were you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?
Prof: So what is the point you are making, young man?
Student: Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.
Prof: Flawed? Can you explain how?
Student: Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought.. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?
Prof: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.
Student: Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?
(The Professor shakes his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument is going.)
Student: Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher? (The class is in uproar.)
Student: Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor's brain?
(The class breaks out into laughter.)
Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor's brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain,sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir? (The room is silent. The professor stares at the student, his face unfathomable.)
Prof: I guess you'll have to take them on faith, son.
Student: That is it sir... The link between man & god is FAITH . That is all that keeps things moving & alive

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your one-note rant. And congrats for the gift of synthesis. I can see hundreds of charts to make a point...the kind of things creatives and clients love.
My reply to Michael post was actually centered around one of the main debates heard/read during the planning convention to celebrate 40 year since our profession started (see
Shame you were not there. You could have enlightened the debate with your fast forward thinking.

10:22 AM  
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