May 22, 2018

Curing the Collywobbles — Part 4: Doing the Research

rhodesWe get the collywobbles from too much newness. We try to cure them by getting back on familiar, reasonable and rational ground. We do our research, hoping to convince ourselves we’ll be safe out there. Trouble is, there’s research, and then there’s… well, the other kind.

Take observational/anecdotal research, for example. It relies on “common sense,” which ought to be our first clue. Common sense says don’t get carried away, make sure you have a backup plan, and all the rest. Sounds good, but it turns out what passes for common sense isn’t always so sensible. See, e.g., the book Accidental Mind. But it doesn’t take a neurologist to figure that out. We just need to remember that anecdotal research lives and dies on the assumption that all of us have our eyes wide open and can see the way the world actually works. Um, yeah, right, got it.

Then there’s research that finds correlations: factors that co-vary (if one moves, so does the other), so it looks like a relationship exists. Consider for example the Super Bowl Indicator, which says the stock market will be bullish if the winner is a former NFL team, but bearish if it’s a former AFL team. That metric was accurate 90% of the time for the 30 years between 1967 and 1997. Impressive, but would you bet your 401K on it? Maybe not. As one commentator said, “Anyone credulous enough to believe a football game can forecast the stock market probably should hire a money manager, or a psychiatrist, or both.”

Research that shows cause and effect is the best, right? After all, science has been running on that paradigm for a long time. True, but then quantum physics came along and ruined everything by showing how observation changes outcome: i.e., we can find cause and effect just by looking for it. So much for objectivity and reliability.

Besides, cause and effect is especially elusive when what we really want to know is, if we do what we love, will the money really follow? Question: How many success stories do we need before we’ll accept them as convincing data? Answer: One more than we’ve already got.

Then of course there’s legal research: applying the law to the facts, making the best case for one side or the other. We’ve been doing that ever since the very first time a “think like a lawyer” neuron fired in our brains at law school, and by now we’re so good at it, it’s no help at all.

Besides, we’re not actually doing research. What we really want is that hypothetical perfect negotiation outcome, where Life ends up with all the risk and liability, and we get a fully-secured ROI in return. Nice try. Let us know when that starts working for you.

But surely there’s a way to make big change be reasonable, isn’t there? I mean, isn’t there?

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice who coaches and mentors other lawyers to love their work and their lives. He leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at

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  1. Okay Kevin, I must respond to your cite of The Accidental Mind . . . not one of my favorites in the neuroscience category! He relies on the kluge model, or badly constructed “quadruple dip ice cream cone” consciousness for a way of operating based on the basis of the reptilian brain. . . .
    Change is not always reasonable and shouldn’t be expected to be – just like lots of other choices in our lives, like falling in love, having children, etc. Change is like death, it is inevitable, part of life and is rightly marked or otherwise celebrated. Or, we can choose to stay asleep!

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